The views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Thrive Teesside as a charity.

Dystopian societies are usually the preserve of science fiction authors located in the distant future. They are inhabited by dictators obsessed with technology who use it to control and spy on a population they fear. Any opinions that contradict the status quo are criminalised and their holders demonised but there is something distinctly dystopian about many aspects of our society.

Many of the organisations that claim to help those in greatest need often are the ones that do the most damage. They create a toxic, sterile environment, usually something resembling an office setting, with empty corporate slogans and trite inspirational messages on boring beige walls.  

Triage has taken this to such levels of mediocrity that it almost disguises the evil that lurks beneath. You almost expect a Great White to suddenly emerge from the cheap carpet and sanction your benefits at the slightest sign of dissension or refusal to attend an interview for a totally inappropriate job vacancy.

My first experience of Triage was many years ago when it was owned by a dodgy car dealer from Scotland. My partner was referred to them by Job Centre Plus and I accompanied her to her first appointment, as she has learning disabilities. Upon first entering Triage the atmosphere was so toxic it made me want to be physically sick, it was an awful stench of human misery and intimidation.  

The clients were expected to share personal details and experiences without any privacy; everyone could hear their conversation. There was no consideration for the client’s dignity; they were just cattle in a bureaucratic meat market. Things have not improved since; the new operation is slicker but basically more of the same.

Triage is now run by Reed, an employment agency, to fill their vacant zero-hour, dead-end contracts with conscripted indentured labour supplied by Job Centre Plus. It is populated by mostly sociopathic salespeople for whom no lie or threat is considered out of bounds if it earns them, or Triage,  a cash bonus. They trample over the client’s dignity and civil liberties like a stampeding herd of JCP Work Coaches.

When I was referred to Triage there was no discussion about its appropriateness, it was a simple matter of fact “We” have referred you to the work program. That is the reality of life within the benefits system, you have no dignity or civil liberties, and you are just a troublesome national insurance number that gets in the way of completing the forms.     

If I was given a choice or a say in the matter I would have politely refused and thanked them for offering the opportunity, but that never happened. The service Triage offer is totally inappropriate for my needs; I have autism and severe mental health issues. Luckily, I got an adviser who understood this but the toxic nature of the organisation was gradually seeping into my consciousness.

Over time this gradual poisoning was making my mental health issues worse, every visit to Triage was pushing me further and further towards a complete nervous breakdown. I was filled with dread with every appointment I had to attend in person and in the days before I was having regular anxiety attacks.

Then the adviser left for another job elsewhere, I did not blame them, almost everything about Triage is toxic. This adviser suggested someone who would understand my circumstances but I was reassigned to another adviser instead. This was when my mental health really started to decline at a much faster rate of speed.

This adviser is clueless when it comes to dealing with people with mental health issues and is more interested in trying to “sell” me the latest vacancies and courses. I have told this adviser on several occasions I am not fit to work in any capacity because of my autism and mental health issues but apparently they have their own disability, deafness, and carry on regardless of the damage they are doing to my state of mind.

The advisors, there are exceptions, at Triage do not seem to realise that the clients that Job Centre Plus refer to them are their under duress. They talk to you like they are your new best friend and employ sneaky sales ploys to get you to agree to things that are totally unsuitable to your needs. All this does is annoy and frustrate the clients and when they react against this they are deemed not to be cooperating, and then sanctioned.

I have been told I should never have been referred to Triage but I cannot leave before the official leaving date because I was mandated to attend. If I left for the sake of my sanity my benefits would be stopped, or at least be sanctioned and sent back for an even longer period.

All I want to do is leave this awful, toxic organisation because I am looking into a deep, dark abyss of another imminent nervous breakdown and nobody at Triage seems to have noticed or cares, especially my new adviser. I am showing the obvious signs of social anxiety and severe mental illness and they are more interested in pleasing their manager and selling their services. They have nothing that can help me, Triage never did.

I strongly suspect there is an element of panic involved because, in their view, there is a danger I might leave without them getting a single penny in return. This is what is fuelling this hard sell act but it is destroying my mental health. They are desperately looking for something to make any sort of claim for money they have not earned or deserve to have.        

What I really need is a breathing space in which I keep all my benefits but without any of the responsibilities, but such a thing does not exist within the present system. Under the current government I very much doubt such a thing will ever exist as they are playing to their core support in a crazy “culture war”, and they are obsessed with the notion of the “undeserving poor”.  I do not expect the incoming Labour government will do anything different, as Keir Starmer is the continuation of Tory austerity and policy candidate.

At this present time, I am trapped in a Gordian Knot of bureaucratic indifference and an unnecessarily cruel loop of pointless activities that serve no useful purpose whatsoever. Just like Winston Smith, me and every other benefit claimant, I am criminalised and demonised by an unelected Prime Minister. It is only a matter of time before Job Centre Plus and Triage bring out the special headwear and the rats when the threat of benefit sanctions no longer works.    

P.S, does anyone know where Alexander the Great lives? 

Trapped in the Minotaur Maze.

Written by Mark Cotterill.