The formation of GMWRAG is, perhaps fortuitously, hidden in the distant mists of time. We are currently excavating to find the early story and will add details in due course. Suffice it to say, for now, that new welfare rights services developed in Greater Manchester in the 1970s and 1980s, challenging poverty and promoting social security rights. Advice groups and local authorities recognised the need to combine a pragmatic agenda of vital service development with a cutting edge of policy critique and promotion of entitlements.
Local groups soon recognized the advantages and efficiencies of co-operative work across the region and decided to set up GMWRAG. The first meeting was held in 1985, with a strong emphasis on developing take-up campaigns, and in challenging fuel poverty. The earliest documentation we’ve been able to find for the main meetings is back in 1986. Please let us know if you find anything earlier. We’d love to put it up on the site.
GMWRAG has continually asserted the case for strong welfare rights and for empowerment of individuals and disadvantaged communities. At the same time, GMWRAG has always respected the responsibilities of its members to their communities and for local authority staff to local councils.
The infrastructure of GMWRAG has continued successfully since the early days, with a regular cycle of meetings held in each borough of Greater Manchester in turn. Each local authority takes on the costs and responsibility of planning and chairing the main quarterly meetings – this helps give GMWRAG committed support and a positive democratic base with local groups. Increasingly though we have been able to decentralise these costs and GMWRAG members can now look back through rose-tinted glasses at those ancient times when preparing for a GMWRAG meeting meant having access to a paper version of the ‘mailing list’; having to count envelopes to stuff agendas, minutes of the last meeting; travel options and any materials you thought members might be interested in in advance of the meeting into with help from your colleagues. Nowadays agendas; minutes and anything else of relevance can be posted on the site and instantly emailed to members who subscribe to the site to take advantage of this facility. How the times have changed!
The history of GMWRAG includes many achievements. Some highlights include:
- A leafleting campaign at local Jobcentres in the 1980s. We approached men over 60 who were signing on quarterly when they were routinely entitled to an extra £10 or so a week.
- A pioneering leaflet about HIV and Benefits in the 1990s.
- Annual publicity drives and regular interviews with Piccadilly Action and GMR, the social voices of local radio in Greater Manchester. We have organised many on-air phone-ins and thousands of off-air calls, generating hundreds of thousands of pounds of successful claims.
- A stall for a national event in Bolton every year since 2001 for families with disabled children. We have advised hundreds of families about dozens of positive entitlements.
But perhaps the greatest achievement of all has been to bring together many advisers and community advocates in Greater Manchester who are fighting for welfare rights and social justice. Members work in the context of seeking steady developments and improvements, but with a friendly atmosphere, respecting equal opportunities and with a constant welcome to new attendees.
We describe GMWRAG as a welcoming community of advocates, with many positive effects. And for all local advice services, GMWRAG is a major help to bring improvements in delivering accurate, empowering services to local people, and in achieving policy gains for the benefit of all.
If you would like to know more of the history of GMWRAG an archive has been created for you to browse at your leisure.