Follow by e-mail

Monday, 19 March 2018

Empty sex is better than no sex, right ? ~ Stardust Memories (1980)

This is a review of The Square (2017)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

19 March

This is a review of The Square (2017)

Art has - though in no way uniquely - spent more than a century in both learning from itself and oftentimes rejecting its previous practices or cosy beliefs about what art is or is for.

In an imaginary 2020, The Square (2017) is squarely and falsely predicated on the notion that the director of a gallery and his or her board typically could have decided to put on an exhibition (we see it being mounted), but without knowing why it would be of interest or how 'to sell it'. Contrary to which, in the last sixty years the so-called art-world has rarely not understood - though there have been some notable mistakes - how to publicize its practitioners and to encourage viewers into all sorts of galleries to see their work.

How well does writer / director Ruben Östlund show that he understands and has observed the world of galleries and their ways of operating ? - probably as well as IMDb has, in giving us this one-liner about the film :

A prestigious Stockholm museum's chief art curator finds himself in times of both professional and personal crisis as he attempts to set up a controversial new exhibit

If that sounds like Guido Anselmi, trying – as the phrase used to have it – ‘to wing it’ in Fellini’s (1963), then that is exactly what Christian Jules Nielsen* (Claes Bang) evokes, rehearsing in the toilet – so we realize – pretending to abandon his printed speech and speak impromptu. Other film-references early on are, patently, La grande bellezza** (The Great Beauty) (2013) and, arguably, Holy Motors (2012) - for its ending, and its nature as episodes, very loosely strung together ?

This is fine, because (although this can be overplayed, and is not exclusively so) film is meant to be referential in its nature - except that The Square never seems to have anything of its own to say, other than this small idea of a show that is being installed, but without clear ideas of promoting it (enter what IMDb calls 'PR Guys', Daniel Hallberg and Martin Sööder, in the mode of Michael Haneke's Funny Games (1997)) :

The film is not about those who work with art***, but it feels as little close to showing them as Elisabeth Moss' (Anne's) vacuous interview with Christian (for which he is woken from a nap), or the equally vapid interior of the head of Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) in Nocturnal Animals (2016)...

And when I love thee not
Chaos is come again
Othello (Act III, Scene 3)

If this is satire (please see below), rather than the naivety of insulting the viewership with a weak premise (and the latter can sometimes be passed off as the former), then it is a shame that it does not have the conviction of Roy Andersson. Except, that is, in the attention-grabbing, 'stand-alone' scene with Terry Notary that is made into the film-poster : even so, it is a high-energy episode that depicts another débâcle for Christian****, but without troubling to relate it to ‘the main action’ – unless generously seen as a depiction of the reign of Chaos, or an unannounced dream-sequence [and so more in the vein of than the explicable exactitudes of divine wrath that Lorgos Yanthimos would treat of in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)].

On the other hand, no one would take the premise of this entertainment of Antonio Salieri’s at face value – we are not meant to engage on a literal level with the fact that the poet is required to write a libretto in four days, and for an opera whose music has already been composed, and no one could seriously so construe the intentions of Salieri and his own librettist, Battista Casti. Yet, on this sort of construction (as with Amy Adams as Susan Morrow in Nocturnal Animals, managing, but significantly not making, art), it no more matters that Ruben Östlund has written real things that happened to him and to others into the setting of, say, a traditional three-ring circus (almost inevitably, back to Guido as circus-master in ), or of a cheese-shop with no cheese (Monty Python).

Cabaret (1972), comsummate, acerbic satire, does something useful with the conceit of a sort of circus-master, but the lack of credibility about the art at Morrow’s gallery, when she is supposed to be successful (an issue that writer / director Tom Ford misjudges, by making the work with the film's artistic team), sadly means that it boots nothing to show her as shallow and uncreative in relation to her ex-husband’s novel. However, it is Python that is closest to The Square, not for cramming more names of cheeses into one sketch than a stick can be shaken at, but perhaps for the haphazard way that (according to The Pythons Autiobiography by The Pythons) The Meaning of Life (1983) came into being.

The difference is that, amongst other things, the best sketches from that film – it is, essentially, a sketch-film (though not as is And Now For Something Completely Different (1971)) – and from four t.v. series have stood the test of time. Whoever Elisabeth Moss is meant to be (other than someone called Anne, who conducts a brief interview), it is unlikely that we will find her repeatedly saying the word Cunt !, or the bedroom tussle, on our mind next year, let alone amusing us.

Or even wanting to hear the trite question asked of her whether picking up her handbag and putting it in the gallery-space would make it art – trite, in terms of a century of debate about what art is, not least with Duchamp’s ‘ready mades’ such as Fountain (1917) (if, that is, he really was the R. Mutt who signed the original work (now lost)).


Even so, the biggest debt (not nearly repaid) is to Michael Haneke's Caché (2005), and to obsessively trying to figure out how and why one has been wronged, countless of the cost.

Film-references and others :

* Caché (Hidden) (2005)

* Funny Games (1997)

* Nocturnal Animals (2016)

* [ ] Songs from the Second Floor (Sånger från andra våningen) (2000)

* [ ] The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

* [ ] Untouchable (Intouchables) (2011)

Nude descending a staircase ~ Duchamp

End-notes :

* To IMDb, he is just Christian, because it can rarely give you detail that is in the body of the film – or tell you better than [ ] watching the closing credits what that piece of music used was (so IMDb does not mention the most obvious thing that we hear, i.e. Gounod, arranging Bach, in ‘Ave Maria’…)

** What a shame not to be re-watching, in Screen 1 at The Arts Picturehouse, the immense beauty of Paolo Sorrentino's clever, insightful and thoughtful film instead ! The flamingos, Jep Gambardella effortlessly taking down artistic pretension, La scala sancta...

*** Gerry Fox does such an excellent job with that in Marc Quinn : Making Waves (2014).

**** Please, please, please ! Of course, there is so much very obvious hypocrisy in the film (at which self-contented people in the screening happily laughed, but - awful realization - don't say that, as he is 'Christian', that this is some sort of re-working of Pilgrim's Progress...

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 18 March 2018

A small remembrance of something more solid¹ ~ Blondie

This is a long-unfinished review of Mistress America (2015)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

18 March

This is a long-unfinished review of Mistress America (2015)

Spirit says ‘Five feet to the left and unhappy (not dropped into body)’ ~
Dr Yang (Alice (1990))

That Blondie track contains a pertinent reference, but ‘Souvenir’ by Orchestral Manœuvres in the Dark (or OMD) is actually part of the soundtrack : a perfect (but British²) single for a skittish take on the ways of New York City [though, for some reason, Wikipedia® styles the band ‘English’] – even for someone who lived through those times, redolent of that era, but maybe less easily placeable (one first thought of Gary Numan…) ? :

My obsession
It's my creation
You'll understand
It's not important now

'Souvenir' (by Paul Humphreys and Martin Cooper)

Personnel (in order of appearance) :

* Lola Kirke ~ Tracy [Fishlock ?]

* Greta Gerwig ~ Brooke Cardinas

* Cindy Cheung ~ Karen / tax attorney

Its fast-talking quipping is exhausting - for them, as well as for us ? - before they settle to it. Till it mellows, and slackens the pace, more like the imaginary game of billiards in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, which is a conversation, cannoning off another one, that is quite parallel :

The film is a lot like the strands that go on, at the same time, in Deconstructing Harry (1997), with a hooker, an old friend who dies, and an abducted son - all in the car with Harry Block on his way to be honoured by his old college. Except that Woody Allen (a) knows to keep it short, and (b) to have the lines better complement each other than the height of intricate Renaissance polyphony, where the text, even if one has it before one, can often barely be followed.

Deconstructing Harry is the apt film to think of, not only because of its stranded nature (in one sense), but because the characters become stranded (in another) in a situation of difficulty that is almost wholly of their making (or, in Harry’s case, of his). Brooke, who barely knows Tracy (but who is impressionable, not to say suggestible), has insisted to her³ :

You have to chase down the things that you say

Tracy, though she protests Me ? I don’t know anything !, is the willing participant on this Möbius-strip of a ride, However, she is as when Ben Stiller, embarrassingly, tries to make a pitch in While We’re Young - out of her depth with what she is doing.

When Greta Gerwig and he co-wrote Frances Ha (20??), which Noah Baumbach directed, it was delightfully knowing in its allusions to Woody Allen of the 1970s, and it was a delightful film. In life, as in film, you have to Know what you’re selling, and What you’re buying, and Mistress America does not

A note on lighting :

In the use of light and dark, towards the end of the film, Greta Gerwig is in the darker part of the room, which is not just as it happens that way, but to reflect that another character is much more brightly lit – at what distance can we imagine them to be that there is such a gradient that the former is in shadow, the latter brightly lit ?

As was seen in While We’re Young (2014), although much more subtly than there, where insight and gullibility / naivety / self-deception (the recurring themes here) are also vividly pictured by extremes of lighting (Ben Stiller in darkness, Adam Driver iluminated)…


¹ From 'Picture This', by Debbie Harry, Jimmy Destri, and Chris Stein.

² Hope Springs (2012), too, pleasantly surprised with the Scottish strains of Annie Lennox.

³ Which is self-referential to the story, though not in the rather patent and unsatisfying way of Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths (2012). One related, difficult element (to joking with 'psychopathy') of Mistress America was mention of a mother with bi-polar experience (or diagnosis ) – talking about someone as if that person is a creature from a fairy-tale or myth...

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Don’t you think they’re the same thing, love and attention ?

This is a review of Lady Bird (2017), written and directed by Greta Gerwig

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

This is a review of Lady Bird (2017), written and directed by Greta Gerwig

As actor and as writer, Greta Gerwig has always seemed at her best when she embraces the fact that, polished veneers apart, life is full of awkwardnesses (although, at the same time, this actually seemed to be the least successful aspect of Mistress America (2015) – perhaps the extent to which others felt awkward was too great¹ ?).

Both tall and immature, awkward and graceful, blundering and candid, annoying and engaging, Greta has won all hearts in the title role of Frances Ha(liday) ~ Greta Gerwig's biography on IMDb

In no bad or derivative way, the script of Gerwig’s film feels as though it is harking back to that which she co-authored with Noah Baumbach for his Frances Ha (2012), though hardly because both title-characters (the latter played by Gerwig herself) have both adopted their names, since, in the case of Frances, it happens through pragmatism and at the very end of the film. What is more enlightening is that it is part of both of them that they have to find a way of being comfortable in the world, before they can relate to it. In the case of Lady Bird – insisting on being called that, because she can – we know how she plans to give herself what she seeks, and how, despite everyone else’s refusing to do so, she credits her abilities.

On that level, although the film does not make this a message, we do see someone who perseveres, based on her self-belief. It is on the level of her relations with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) that things are really interesting, however. As her father (Tracy Letts) puts it, in talking to Lady Bird, You both have such strong personalities, and we find, in the car at the outset, how that can be good and also less good. One is reminded that it is said of psychiatrist R. D. Laing that he gave much to his patients, but was distant from, or even hard on, his own children (which, though it can be rather loose with its facts, is how Mad to be Normal (2017) portrays him).

Saoirse Ronan excellently plays the part of Lady Bird, and her friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and she behave, and have been dressed to look, convincingly the right age (which Greta Gerwig, born a decade earlier, could not have done). Whether she is feeding into the script her own experience (she was, in fact, born in Sacramento, CA²), or solely her imagination, is less important than that she clearly does so with a level of plausible absurdity that makes what we see feel genuine, coupled with knowing when we will be interested, amused or touched by it. It matters to her that she tell this story, and that makes the film-making powerful and worthwhile.

Frances Ha is trying to find, personally and professionally, the way of being comfortable with herself that will let her just be in the world. It is almost as though, when she does ‘fly away’ to where she feels home (as the children’s rhyme has it), Christine drops the high-school cover of calling herself Lady Bird. She is a figure akin to Frances, but seen earlier in life, and whose ways of being we see being shaped by her background.

End-notes :

¹ It seems like Bottle Rocket (1996), except that Wes Anderson’s film is a whole, so that its close makes it complete in itself and cohere – rather as does The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), when one might be wondering where it is going ?

² Where scenes in Frances Ha (2012) are also set (with Gerwig’s actual parents cast in the role), and, according to IMDb, Gerwig did attend an all-girls Catholic school, and describes herself having been ‘an intense child’…

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Fathers in the films of Wes Anderson : Some Tweets

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

7 March

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Water finds its own level

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 18 February 2018

'Joy (2015) is another Playbook where the Silver Linings are fairly hidden' ~ Ramirez Jones

'Joy (2015) : another Playbook where the Silver Linings are fairly hidden'

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

18 February

'Joy (2015) is another Playbook where the Silver Linings
are fairly hidden' ~ Ramirez Jones

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Black Panther (2018) Tweets

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

17 February

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 16 February 2018

A very strange choice of questions in the #MHAReview survey !

A very strange choice of questions in the #MHAReview survey

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

15 February

A very strange choice of questions in the #MHAReview survey (and my attempts to answer them, without being sectioned) !

Q1. Based on your experience, do you agree or disagree that being sectioned has been the best approach for your mental health needs ? Please explain your answer.

1. Being 'sectioned' is, in itself, a piece of jargon that we do not need - it is worse than when the language was 'committed', or 'certified', and has no objective justification : unless Regulations determine whether, for example, the police can detain a person against his or her will, such a detention will be under some section of an Act of Parliament, but we don't call that 'being sectioned', but (usually) 'arrested'.

2. Detention against one's will is often not an approach for that person's 'mental health needs', but, usually, to keep someone in an environment that is neither usefully stimulating, nor therapeutic, for the benefit of and away from others (e.g. family or neighbours), until that person 'is better', so I cannot agree that 'sectioning' was for my needs, or implies any approach (good or bad) to them - the existence, nowadays, of crisis resolution and home treatment, which are approaches, and the paucity of places on wards, mean that I would not have been sectioned now.

3. It was a dehumanizing and degrading experience, and it licenses the use, on patients and regardless of whether they have capacity to consent, with powerful medications whose exact effect is guesswork to those who prescribe them, as is the incidence of very unpleasant side-effects (of which no warning was given) : they may quieten them, but so would psychological interaction, and without badly altering their brain chemistry. It is legalized experimentation with dangerous substances.

Q2. What could have happened differently that could have prevented you from being sectioned ?

1. As mentioned at Q1, the existence of crisis resolution and home treatment services, or the lack of ready availability of psychiatric places, which allowed people to be detained who could clamour for one now, and not be admitted.

2. Psychiatric services for those who really do need and want them have, unfortunately, been deprived of such funding that the only benefit is that people can no longer be put under detention for so little reason.

3. In my case, proper psychological engagement with me, as I was, rather than the police-led escalation of my mood, thoughts and fears, would have assisted.

Q3. How would you describe the care you received while sectioned ? This could be either in hospital or a Community Treatment Order.

1. I am not sure that it is correct that one is, as such, sectioned when on a CTO : certain sections and / or certain triggering events may cause a Responsible Clinician to put someone on a CTO, but my understanding is that one cannot say 'while sectioned' to mean on one.

2. The care was not 'care', but containment. In comparison with even some other wards on the same site, it had a reasonable programme of activities, such as a cooking group, or a so-called 'breaking-out group' (going into the city under escort of 2-3 nursing staff). Other activities were more patronizing, such as being given time to make a piece of art, but then have to have someone supposedly analyse it / one through it, or the community meeting (which I avoided, after being at it once). Asking for an hour's ground leave and walking around the grounds was best.

3. None of this was 'care'. One was indoctrinated with some medicalized account of one's self, and obliged to take medication (haloperidol) - this felt more like punishment for what one was not meant to think / have thought, with constipation, stiff and awkward arms and legs, painful neck-cramps. All depersonalizing, humiliating and taking away any status that one had in the name of psychiatry.

Q4. In your experience, what are the most important things that can help people stay well following discharge, and reduce the need to be sectioned again in future ?

1. The 'need to be sectioned' proved to be tied to finances - when funding for mental-health services became curtailed, it became less likely that anyone with my experiences (20+ yrs ago) would be sectioned.

2. Nonetheless, the important less that being 'sectioned' teaches a former detainee is to behave in such a way that psychiatrists lose interest and discharge him or her. Then, despite a mind that has almost certainly been damaged in the way that the nonsense about 'chemical imbalance' claimed justified one's detention, take sufficient medication to control behaviour that attracts others' attention.

3. For those who were desperate to be discharged (and did not just outright refuse to agree to the terms of Supervised Community Treatment, because then a so-called Community Treatment Order would be impossible to make), it will not be the CTO - no evidence of that whatever.

4. The 'need to be sectioned' - there is no such need, because it is driven by societal and family pressure, but only as long as there is money for it.

Q5. Do you feel you were treated with dignity and respect ?

As a person who was twice detained against his will ? Absolutely not !

Put on section 2 on c. 21 April 1996, the consultant did not even have the decency to tell me that she had taken me off the section - for years, until I saw my records, I thought that she had just let it expire.

Detention under section is one of the most humiliating and degrading experiences of my life - that is the true answer to Q5, that, apart from the GP's stupid 'experiment' of continuing me without medication after an abrupt week-long withdrawal (as I had no tablets, and he decided not to prescribe), which saw a re-admission in January 1997, I had no intention, after that, of going back to hospital again for more dehumanizing and status-less time there.

Q6. Where relevant, do you feel your carers (e.g. family or friends supporting you while you were sectioned) were treated with dignity and respect ?

More so than I was. I was only taken off haloperidol, during the first admission, when my somewhat hard-hearted wife, obsessed with how her life had changed, pleaded for me.

During the second admission (January 1997), she agreed to apply for me to be discharged from my section (section 3) - that, as I only established from the records, appeared to have been blocked within the period of 72h, but, again, there was zero transparency as to what had happened.

Besides, my wife was not a carer - she was a prime cause of the behaviour that was diagnosed as supposed mental illness.

Q7. What rights do you think a person sectioned under the Mental Health Act should have ?

1. They should have the rights that the Act already gives them - not available, in my experience.

2. A curiously open-ended question, but, certainly :

(a) the right to a full assessment of capacity to consent to treatment in compliance with the Mental Capacity Act ;

(b) based on being found to have capacity, the right to refuse treatment ;

(c) the right, again with capacity or based on a relevant advance directive, to refuse ECT, and not for there to be a deemed lack of capacity or an 'emergency' need for ECT ;

(d) not to be put on a CTO (and for all existing CTOs to be discharged), failing which explicit rights to an IHMA when a CTO falls to be considered and to be told of the right to refuse to agree the terms of a CTO and the consequences of so doing ;

(e) the right to much better than the tokenistic 'reading of rights' that patients are given, by staff who do not believe that someone detained against his or her will has any rights ;

(f) an easier way than displacing a nearest relative to have that a person of one's choice ;

(g) right to a second opinion ;

(h) better protection against ill-treatment than under s. 127 (has anyone ever been prosecuted successfully ?).

Q8. What rights do you think a carer (e.g. family and friend) sectioned under the Mental Health Act should have ?

They have too many rights as it is, e.g. to request a Mental Health Act assessment. Carers are often not the people whom those for whom they claim to care would choose, and the balance is too far in favour of abusers, who take away others' peace of mind, or even apparent sanity.

Q9. If you could change one aspect of the Mental Health Act, what would you change ?

It must be that, irrationally, it overrides people's capacity to refuse treatment (i.e. forced medication) for their alleged mental ill-health, but the very same people, with capacity to consent to treatment for a cancer or other such condition that will kill them (and a consultant in that field would be absolutely bound by their advance directive, if they lacked capacity, for such treatment, or to require them not to be resuscitated) - so much for parity of esteem !

(A close-run thing with the unnecessary involvement of the police, which makes people confuse their psychiatric detention with the criminal-justice system - e.g. returning 'absconding' patients, or under s. 136.)

Q10. Is there anything else you would like to tell us ?

The power of others to put people, either supposedly out of concern for them, or - as neighbours or as family members - by complaining about them or alleging being in fear of them, into a coercive environment that is unlikely to be therapeutic should be reduced / redressed in favour of those detained against their will.

How much has really been understood since, or changed because of, Placed Amongst Strangers [] ?


Q16. Do you know which section(s) of the Mental Health Act you were sectioned under ?

Yes :

April 1996 - s. 2

January 1997 - initially informal, then a s. 4 holding power was used* when - peaceably - I decided that I wanted to go back to the ward where I had been admitted overnight, and six staff used face-down restraint on me, I was taken back in, sedated, and put onto s. 3

End-notes :

It looks as though that should have been s. 5, in fact :

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 11 February 2018

PIP application : Mandatory reconsideration - My letter to the DWP (as copied to Heidi Allen MP)

My letter to the DWP about PIP (as copied to Heidi Allen MP)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

PIP application : Mandatory reconsideration - My letter to the DWP
(as copied to Heidi Allen MP)

[Address redacted – as
further redactions are noted]

Personal Independence Payment [X]
Post Handling Site [Z]

21 December 2017

Dear Sirs

[Redacted : name – date of birth – National Insurance no.]
PIP application : Mandatory reconsideration

I write further to your letter dated 6 December, whose box was too small to give many and varied reasons why a mandatory reconsideration should make a different decision from that dated 18 November (which, probably over-elaborating*, I am attempting to set out in the separate document enclosed – this and it are watermarked with my name and NI number, in case any pages become detached).

In addition, I was due to see Dr [X], my usual GP at [Z] Surgery, on Friday 15 December, and I write in the light of seeing him and his agreeing to write to you in support. (However, I believe (from having contacted the surgery’s reception), that he has still to complete and send his report.)

I enclose, therefore, my detailed submissions (with reasons) why the decision should be reconsidered in my favour (awarding me at least the Standard rate for Daily Living), together with a copy of an annotated version of the letter dated 12 October 2016 that I received from [Z] Partnership (NHS) Foundation Trust (ZPFT). As mentioned further in those submissions, I discussed the letter with Dr [X] near the time, to decide with him whether it was worth my while to try to push to be granted a service more similar to what I had asked for. (An unannotated copy of the original of this letter was shown and given to the assessor, but it is not listed, and likewise others, on the Consultation report form PA4, on page 1 – ‘all evidence considered’.)

Recent chronology :

* Monday 6 November – appointment with Dr [X], who had not been asked for a report, and who read and then was supplied with copies of the PIP application form (in readiness)

* Tuesday 7 November – the postponed medical assessment in [Z] (after one had been cancelled on the day)

* Saturday 18 November – date of decision (which was slow to arrive [sc. because the DWP bulk-uses a private co., UK Mail, which then provides it to Royal Mail to be delivered with the ordinary stamped or franked post])

* Monday 27 November – called DWP (on [no.]), and spoke to [Y], with whom an hour-long telephone conversation ensued (for a summary of the essential points of which, please see below)

To begin with, I set out the following matters in this covering letter as being, in my opinion, of general application, and so – by copying this letter to my MP, Heidi Allen, by e-mail – I am asking for her to raise them with the relevant Minister(s) of HM government. I do so on behalf of all who have – on the phased ceasing of DLA (Disability Living Allowance), which is itself an inequity (although one from which I have benefited, by not having to go through this process before this date) – been obliged either to forgo such a payment, or apply ‘to transfer to’ PIP (Personal Independence Payment). There are also those who, unwittingly, freely choose to apply, but with inadequate information.

On 27 November, I made the phone-call, as it seemed implausible that Dr [X] could have been asked to write and have written a report in the timescale given above, i.e. an assessment on Tuesday 7 November, and the decision already made and sent out on the second Saturday succeeding it (18 November). As I told [X], the DWP representative to whom I spoke, the decision had been skimmed through, but it did not appear to mention a report from Dr [X]. She confirmed that none had been asked for, and that – with a discretion whether to do so – Independent Assessment Services (though still not wholly effective in a name-change from Atos) – usually do not request one (or words to that effect – she may have said ‘normally’, or ‘ask for’).

On my own behalf, and having had to seek to assist clients […], I knew that the application form for other welfare benefits preceding PIP (e.g. DLA, or even IB (Incapacity Benefit)) contained the same sort of boxes for name, address, telephone number, etc., of health and other professionals. However, there was the legitimate expectation, because of what the practice was, that medical reports would be obtained, by or on behalf of the DWP – i.e. as part of the process of (re)applying for the benefit.

In other words, as an individual, the claimant did not previously have to arrange for this to happen – obviously, any existing medical evidence, in letters or reports, could be submitted, but he or she did not have to commission his or her own up-to-date report (and meet any fee for writing it ?). Such existing reports were anyway unlikely to address the specific day-to-day needs in the way that those application forms asked for (or that for PIP now does) : the objectiveness of the assessment is supposedly predicated on its descriptors and corresponding points (as against wordings to fit into under the criteria for DLA, mobility and care components), but assessors, in a rather facile way, pick on what is evident and undeniable to them. (For example, how I am described, at the top of page 10 of the form PA4, under ‘General appearance and Informal Observations’ – one is credited for some of what one says by what the assessor can observe or witness, but not for others.)

The fact that this is even so is an inequity, both for those less confident of being able to persuade a reluctant, because busy, GP or specialist to write a report – as against a request by or for the purposes of the DWP, which carries official weight – and / or for those without the means to pay for one (de facto they are, after all, applying for welfare benefits).

1. The DWP sends out a fact-sheet that (starting with returning the form) leads up to information about the medical assessment, and refers to the role of Atos. However, as I wish to point out to Ms Allen, as my MP (and for everyone’s benefit), it needs to be absolutely explicit : in this benefit application (unlike others that a claimant may have made, before PIP), the onus has now actually been put on the claimant to obtain – if it does not already exist, in current written form – any additional evidence or information from the professionals who support you that explains how your condition or disability affects your daily life. (Also enclosed, attached to this letter, is a copy of that fact-sheet, where I have marked the sections that I am quoting.)

2. At some level, that may seem clear enough, but the following sentences (after skipping the next one) must be read as well : Please send the most recent evidence you have that shows how your ability to carry out the activities we ask about in the form are affected by your condition or disability. Only send in photocopies of things you already have available to you [my emphasis]. (On the reverse of the sheet (under ‘Evidence that will help us to assess your PIP claim’), it even refers to what will assist a claim (Reports about you from […], followed by a list of eight types of professional, including GPs, consultants (‘hospital doctors’), and physiotherapists.)

3. Arguably, when coupled with the following factors, it is not clear enough to anyone making an application that reports will not be asked for, but that they are likely to be needful (please see para. 4, below) :

(a) The fact that the initial application for PIP takes place by telephone, and therefore the DWP could take responsibility – in that call – for being plain with claimants that Atos (as [Y] informed me on 27 November) use their discretion and, by and large, do not request reports (or even tell claimants that they have not requested them),

(b) At odds with what I was told by [Y], the fact-sheet goes on to say (under ‘What Happens Next ?’), when the claim has been passed to the assessment providers (i.e. Atos), They may ask the professionals who support you for extra information if they need it, and

(c) Somewhere, between the DWP and Atos, any fee that might have been paid to GPs or others to write reports that were previously requested directly has then probably been pushed in the direction of the claimants (although, by definition, they are applying for welfare benefits), as well as putting on them as patients, etc., the task of trying to get someone to write reports (unlike a GP, etc., having a formal request from, say, the DWP)

4. If all of that is the case, and if it were also fair and right for it be so, it cannot be fair or right not to spell out to claimants, when they make the telephone application, that they have to commission (and pay for) the reports that may assist their claim, i.e. a reasoned account from a professional that explains how your condition or disability affects your daily life. Unless a claimant has had a needs-led assessment, or input from an occupational therapist, it is not likely that a report will happen to cover his or her ability to carry out the activities we ask about in the form (ten activities for Daily Living, plus two for Mobility).

5. Unlike in my case (where I was being obliged to make a claim for PIP by a specified date, because DLA would otherwise just finish), someone who did not want to be rushed with an important application (as it is by definition intended to try to make their life better financially), could then exercise the decision to delay making it – to have the best chance possible with it, by giving him or her time to obtain a report (and, additionally, the funds for any payment for writing it). In such a case, that person should properly be told, at that stage, what position he or she is in, because, by delaying making the application until he or she knew that a report was going to be available (and what cost would be incurred), the chances of successfully claiming would be increased.


I can therefore see no reason why that is not an important and mandatory element, in the early part of the call (before starting the application itself), when someone telephones to make an application for PIP (or in the information sent out). It should then be followed up with an absolutely clear written statement of the same (whether or not, in that same call, the potential claimant proceeds with completing the application process).

In the enclosed submissions (which have taken me, on and off, since around 8 December (or before)), I turn to the particular matters raised by my own case – the PIP decision dated 18 November, and the Consultation report form (PA4), dated 7 November, on which it is based. As mentioned above, I also refer to the annotated letter dated 12 October 2016 from ZPFT (Z Partnership (NHS) Foundation Trust) (the original of which was sent in with my application for PIP, and referred to in the assessment, but not acknowledged on page 1 of the PA4), and one of the DWP fact-sheet (attached hereto).

Please acknowledge safe receipt of this letter and its enclosures. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully


cc Heidi Allen, MP (via only)

* As shown by the appended e-mail exchange, I had been waiting to hear from [X] (at [Z] Council, and who met me to complete the PIP application, in her handwriting, but with my answers). When I did receive this e-mail, and then sent her what I was then working on here (and in the enclosure), I seemed to have no reply from her, so I have had to press on, without her assistance :

Appended e-mail correspondence

RE: PIP decision
Thu, 14 Dec 2017 9:37
To [Claimant]

Apologies for the delay. Please send over your response and I will be happy to ‘edit’ if necessary

From: [Claimant]
Sent: 10 December 2017 22:20
To: [Recipient]
Subject: PIP decision

10 December 2017

Dear [X]

After you helped me with the PIP application form, and I then managed to avoid having to go to [Z] (and getting stressed in a place that I barely know - though, oddly, that is so narrowly defined in the descriptors for 'Making and following a journey'), I forgot about your covering letter, when you posted me the scanned form.

It re-emerged, when I was looking for the copy PIP form earlier to-day. An appointment, in [Z], was cancelled on the day, when my friend [/ …] and I had already arrived. They let us rebook it for Tuesday 7 November, and they issued the decision really quickly - I had seen my GP on the day before the appointment, shown him the forms and the descriptors (as he had not been asked to write a report), and made him copies of them.

When I got the decision (dated 18 November), I did at least receive 6pts (but still 2pts short), and I was quickly on the phone to them for an hour, berating them that, when they know that people want their medical evidence considered, they (or the assessors) do not even tell people whether the assessors used their discretion about whether to request it (apparently, they do not normally request it).

Which means that the claimant is unaware that it will not be to hand at the time of the assessment. That is just wrong, when their decision claims 'This information is the best we have available...'. I said that I would complain to my MP, and that the DWP - commissioning the assessment services - cannot claim not to know what is in their standard letters to claimants. What do you think ?

I am writing something to argue myself up the necessary 2pts. Would you be willing to take a look, to temper the enthusiasm of someone arguing his own case, when I have finished ?

I am seeing the GP on Friday - they are giving him till 25 December to write in support.

Best wishes for Christmas


Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)