Minutes of the last meeting of the North West Mental He… yeah, you know what it says!

The NWMHWRA Groupmins 28.09.18 of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group (NWMHWRAG) are now available for download.

Hard as it may be to believe, that is all.

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Updated statement from Greater Manchester Law Centre.

Exactly one year ago, we released our statement on the Universal Credit rollout. We were approached by a local Job Centre, who asked if we could provide facilities and support for Universal Credit applications. This did not sit well with us, and we carefully considered why.

We stand alongside people who’re fighting the DWP’s hostile environment. We have reclaimed over one million pounds falsely denied to disabled claimants in Greater Manchester, whilst demanding that the Government is held to account for the policies that are preventing disabled and unwell people from getting the disability payments they are entitled to. We are independent. Our legal services are free, professional, and face to face.

Therefore, our response was clear: the government cannot rely on the voluntary sector to pick up the pieces. For example, if Universal Credit is so convoluted and ineffective that those implement it ask charities for help, then it should not have been implemented at all. Our role is to publicly challenge the injustices of this government’s welfare regime.

One year on, we stand by this position. We remain independent, funded by our supporters and community.

GMLC’s statement, October 12th 2017: “We will not be complicit”

At the Greater Manchester Law Centre, we help people to navigate the existing benefits system. Vulnerable members of our community are struggling to access the support they deserve because of long and intimidating application forms and convoluted tribunal processes. In our first year, we helped clients with lost benefits to claim back £370,000, which demonstrates that many people are having to fight protracted battles to receive benefits that they should never have been denied in the first place. The consequences of an ineffective welfare system can be devastating, and Universal Credit appears destined to worsen the situation.

As a voluntary sector organisation, we are steadfast in our stance on Universal Credit: we will not assist in its implementation. If Universal Credit is so convoluted and ineffective that voluntary sector organisations are relied upon, then it should not be implemented at all. For example, a local Job Centre approached us earlier this year to ask if we would provide computers and supervisors to help people keep online journals for Universal Credit. Our response is clear: this is not the role of the voluntary sector. We will not be complicit in a scheme which results in further adversity and punishment for vulnerable people. We therefore refuse to facilitate the Universal Credit rollout.

Contact: Roz Burgin and Astrid Johnson, Development Workers, development[at]gmlaw.org.uk

Tel: 0161 769 2244                                                                                                                               

Facebook: Facebook.com/gmlawcentre

Twitter: @gmlawcentre

Web: www.gmlaw.org.uk

Registered Charity Number 1170317

Registered Company 09698401

The Greater Manchester Law Centre is a member of the Law Centres Network, http://www.lawcentres.org.uk.

Links

Manchester Evening News: Special Report on Universal Credit roll-out http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/who-going-feed-kids-stress-13739245

GMLC reclaim over one million pounds falsely denied to disabled claimants https://www.gmlaw.org.uk/2018/09/14/one-million-pounds/

The government has created a “hostile environment” for disabled people, new research shows https://www.gmlaw.org.uk/2018/07/16/hostile-environment/ 

Support GMLC today https://www.gmlaw.org.uk/donations-standing-orders/

Your all in one GMWRAG post on GMWRAG in Trafford.

We’ve made our claims online. We’re in the middle of our assessment period and we’ll (perhaps) get the pay off in 2 weeks time only to watch it all subsequently fall apart 🙂 Yes, the Trafford GMWRAG approaches and it has correctly been pointed out that not all of the information about the meeting is contained in one place. So, here’s the one post where everything is collated (until the next time we need to add something).

The meeting is a full day meeting and takes place at the offices of Trafford Housing Trust, Sale Point, 126-150 Washway Road, Sale M33 6AG on Friday the 19th of October 2018. Doors will open at 9:30am for a 10am start and we aim to finish for 4ish.

The venue is (we are told) a very straight forward 14 minute walk from the Sale Metrolink stop (M33 2DG in case you were wondering) and is also on a main bus route. Drivers? You’ll figure it out 🙂. Parking? Use a a sat nav.

The minutes of the last meeting remain available here and the final agenda can be found over here. Please note that whilst the name of the latter includes the word “Draft” it is most definitely the final version of the agenda. A big thank you to all those people who threw stuff at us really quickly and in great detail by email when we asked for your top 5 issues to help shape the agenda. We’re (reasonably) confident that the final agenda reflects in general terms almost all of the issues raised but we’re also painfully aware that you can’t please all of the people all the time.

On that note we’re sure that attendees or potential attendees are aware that our key speaker is Neil Couling CBE, Director General of the Universal Credit Programme. and that the day is dedicated to looking at common UC issues in GM and putting together a plan to manage those going forward. This means we have rather more housekeeping rules than normal.

  • Anyone turning up spontaneously as per most GMWRAG meetings may find we cannot accommodate them. We appreciate this is unusual but the room holds a maximum of 50 people and we are reasonably confident we will fill it. It’s a way to travel only to find we don’t have room so please Contact GMWRAG.
  • This is a GM meeting. GMWRAG has always welcomed members from as far afield as Cumbria and North Wales but this one is a GM meeting about specific GM issues and solutions. Whilst we’re sure many members might want to turn up out of curiosity to see; listen to and debate with a national figure and three local partnership managers we have had to make the hard decision that our priority has to be to give space to active GM workers who are not only interested in devising processes to look at solutions but who will also be around to work on those in the immediate future. We are happy(ish) to apologise if this appears stern but we have a small waiting list for non-GM advice staff and if we do think there’s space then we will contact anyone on the list
  • Equally, please do not turn up just for our guest speaker. See the previous bullet point. This is a working day with very specific aims for the GM area and whilst we welcome all participants we need people to be there for the full day else it becomes a little pointless. If you wish to attend please contact GMWRAG via the usual routes.
  • The logistics of this meeting have taken considerable effort from a small group of people to whom GMWRAG would like to extend (pathetically) grateful thanks right now. However, our hosts organisational skills will be fully occupied on the day and so once again we really urge attendees to download and print both the agenda and minutes and bring them with you on the day. It will really aid the smooth running of the meeting.
  • For those who have not attended previously we provide tea, coffee, water and biscuits. No lunch is provided. Expect to go for a walk or by all means bring your own.

We’ll give you all maybe one more prod before the meeting but we look forward to seeing you on the day.

Final preparation for the GMWRAG meeting in Trafford. Final agenda now available.

Everything is now in place for the next GMWRAG meeting in Trafford on Friday the 19th of October 2018. As usual this is a full day. Most of the details you need to attend can be found in our previous post.

The minutes of the last meeting remain available in the usual place and, as ever, we would prefer that you print these off in advance and bring them with you to the meeting to minimise the work of the meeting hosts. The agenda for the day is also now available and can be downloaded from here. As with the minutes, please bring your own copy if you can.

As per previous posts, this is going to be a busy meeting with a very tight agenda in a limited space. Anyone who turns up on the day assuming they can roll up spontaneously as per most GMWRAG meetings may find that we cannot accommodate them. We appreciate this is unusual but the room holds a maximum of 50 people and we are confident we already have 45 plus people attending including our 4 guests.

Equally, please do not turn up just for our guest speaker. This is a working day with very specific aims for the GM area and whilst we welcome all participants we need people to be there for the full day else it becomes unmanageable. If you wish to attend please contact GMWRAG via the usual routes.

Rumours that we’ve ordered a take out from the food hall at the Trafford Centre at lunch time are wholly unfounded, although if anyone wants to offer…

Liverpool report on “Universal Credit Unintended Consequences”.

GMWRAG is pleased to see yet another report talking in depth about the consequences of the introduction of Universal Credit. We’re not sure about the title. Are the consequences of UC FS really unintended? Were they really not obvious some years ago? GMWRAG thinks that’s a generous interpretation but anyway here’s a short video of City of Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson introducing the report. We are aware that a number of you may be viewing this in the workplace and may not have access to a sound card. Regrettably subtitles are not available. We have commented to this effect on the above video.

However, you can read the full report here and we look forward to hearing the response from Esther McVey in due course.

“A useful step forward but we need to keep walking.”

GMWRAG is an intermittent fan boy of the work being posted on the Inequalities blog. Unless you have been living under a rock you may also be aware of the announcement of a new poverty measure this week. It would appear DWP have been living under a very shaded rock as a quick glance at their web site suggests nothing is going on with poverty at all but the employment rate is at a “near record high“. We suspect this translates roughly as “a bit better than it was”. Anyway…

Ben Baumberg-Geiger of the Inequalities blog has written an interesting article about the steps forward in the new poverty measure and the deficiencies. You can read the full article here. GMWRAG also recommends the thought provoking “The need for right-wing research” from the same author.

The sorry tale of how GMWRAG received a response to our first ever Freedom Of Information request; missed a chance to do some DWP wide research and learnt more than we possibly intended.

On the 13th of August 2018 GMWRAG made a Freedom of Information request to DWP via our new WhatDoTheyKnow account. You can read all about the context for that first request in our post of that date but it’s worth reiterating the basics here.

On the 3rd of August 2018 @neilcouling posted the following tweet.

“Nice end to the week. UC claimant on work experience in jobcentre tells whole of DWP, UC is better than JSA, feels more customer-friendly, giving people responsibility for their money means work less of a culture-shock, that change is inevitable but this one is welcome.”

@GMWRAGtweets has enjoyed “bants” with Mr. Couling previously and we’re well aware of an infamous occasion claims were made of being inundated with thank you cards from claimants who had been sanctioned. The final number could be described as something less than “inundated” unless DWP are now using a dolls house sized letter box as the front end for mail handling.

We have no idea whether the above account is controlled by Mr. Couling (or perhaps a “UC claimant on work experience”) but the above tweet provokes more questions than answers and Mr. Couling wasn’t very forthcoming.

We probably don’t need to comment further on the phrase “UC claimant on work experience in jobcentre”… but we will! We think the very concept of “work experience in jobcentre” begs a question as to what on earth JCP think they’re doing? Why would you place anyone on work experience in a jobcentre? If you can do it for one why can’t you do it in all (recognising the problematic nature of doing it in even one JCP)? What safeguards are in place if the work experience doesn’t work out? Is the work coach the supervisor? And so on… ad nauseam.

However, our more immediate concern was that this was someone giving out a message which offers a perspective on UC which flies in the face of all the evidence accepted by the Public Accounts Committee, the Work and Pensions Committee and the National Audit Office and in the context of doing work experience in, of all places, a JCP. So, this would be someone who not only seemed unlikely to have had any issue with the fluctuations inherent in UC in other situations and is therefore potentially largely uniformed by the wider issues but also who looks from the outside to have said something which at worst looks potentially coerced given that the language used, to most reasonable people, does not appear to be the language of a claimant. Indeed it bore remarkable similarities to those leaflets the DWP had to concede contained case studies of claimants who weren’t exactly real!

So, GMWRAG elected to ask a simple question? Which jobcentre? When we didn’t get an answer we decided to just keep asking. Every day!

At first we couldn’t any response at all but then, after 5 days Mr. Couling denied we’d asked him anything.

“Think you need to check back on your twitter history. I don’t recall you asking me anything. This tweet suggests you have asked a local jobcentre? But if I missed a tweet from you apologies”.

By this time we had, of course, on the 4th of August 2018 asked every JCP on Twitter in the UK whether this inspirational claimant had been at their office. We didn’t think this was unreasonable. Weren’t these the same JCPs who had claimed to be so responsive on social media that they had once prevented a claimant setting out to sign on in those notorious “adverse weather conditions” less then 10 minutes after they’d been asked if they were open! Yes, they were.

At the time of writing, a mere 40 days later, not a single one of those JCPs has shown enough social media manners to offer us a polite response. Not a “Sorry, not us”. Not a peep. Were there to be a storm of biblical proportions it seems most unlikely any JCP would be able to offer up a response in 9 minutes.

On the 8th of August 2018 Mr. Couling finally responded that this “… wasn’t from a jobcentre, which perhaps explains why jobcentres haven’t responded.”

Well, on one level, we had achieved a little more clarity, albeit only in the sense that we had established that blood wasn’t likely to leak from a stone any time soon. On the other hand, are we truly alone in thinking that an organisation which gets asked a questions and fails to acknowledge that even if only to confirm that they couldn’t help is best described not as “customer friendly” (to hark back to our original concern) but simply unprofessional? If GMWRAG members received a query from a client or another government department or indeed just about anyone, and simply failed to answer does “unprofessional” not leap out as the obvious adjective?

GMWRAG then asked, not unreasonably, if not in a JCP, then where. Mr. Couling was on fire now. He came back with the brilliant phrase “Sure, social media.”. We then asked which account and… silence.

ON the same day GMWRAG then found the account of one @AfrikKwame who quite remarkably had tweeted (on the 29th of March 2018 mind you) the words

“@JTomlinsonMP @ MMorley_JCP @Director_LHC I’m Deaf and loving my work experience at Barnsbury JC, coaching non-Deaf UC claimants into work.”

Putting aside that this means that work experience in a JCP is actually “a thing” we didn’t think this was our man (more on this later) but Mr. Couling then tweeted the astonishing

“This exchange reminds me of the bit from the Life of Brian where a follower says “only the true messiah denies his own divinity”. Brian replies “well what chance does that give me?”. Noted you never accept anyone might be happy with UC. I’m listening why not reciprocate?”

Two days earlier Mr. Couling had accepted an invitation to the October GMWRAG meeting! He then clearly set about doing some serious listening as his Twitter account fell mysteriously silent…

You can read the full text of the DWP response here. Like us you may wonder at how the DWP intranet translates into “social media”. Despite encouragement from elsewhere we think it would be futile to pursue this angle. Whilst most of us think of social media as specific platforms like Flaccidbook or Witter, it can be defined sufficiently loosely for Mr. Couling to be able to get away with the use of the phrase in connection with a post or broadcast on an intranet. See here for an example.

We do now have the full text of the voluntarily provided feedback, which reads

“I’m doing work experience at the job centre and I’m on UC. In my opinion UC is
much easier for customers than the old JSA system, it feels much more customer
friendly. Also, giving the customers full responsibility for their money is less of a
culture shock when we enter into full or even part time employment. I do
understand that some of the staff are concerned about the possibility of a heavy
workload due to the change of procedure, however, I think that once the change is
implemented, it will make the whole process smoother for all. In every system
change is inevitable, but I can tell you now, to me this is a very welcome one.”

GMWRAG is willing to listen to arguments that the above is real. The extent to which it was voluntary is open to discussion and ditto the extent to which the above is couched in the language of a claimant as opposed to a broadcast by DWP. However, the matter is not at an end. Indeed we have just tweeted @AfrikKwame to ask if they were in fact the person in question. Watch this space.

Brilliantly, it appears that when DWP posted the above responses they managed to not only fail to fully redact the name of the relevant claimant (too late folks, it’s apparently been sorted) but also managed to post a link which enabled a user to message the whole of the DWP! Yes, you read that right. GMWRAG of course missed the boat on this once in a lifetime opportunity to do some research in partnership with the DWP and that has been taken down also. Bearing in mind that UC is intended to be wholly digital and DWP is currently looking to migrate UC to a cloud computing platform. Let’s not even start on online ID verification. GMWRAG is both mildly amused and simultaneously horrified that such basic errors and data breaches continue to occur. It appears one little question can open up a whole can of worms.

Mysteriously, @NeilCouling is back on Twitter as of today! Perhaps someone lost the password and just found it in a journal!

The same “long read” as last time but possibly in a more digestible format and with a different title.

Back in July 2018 GMWRAG published a long read via TruPublica titled “Research Paper Update: State Crime By Proxy: Corporate Influence on State Sanctioned Social Harm”. You can read that post here and the actual article here.

The whole thing has now been formally published by the Centre for Welfare Reform and is available for download as a pdf by clicking below. The new title is the much more understandable “Preventable Harm and the Work Capability Assessment”.

If you want to know how we ended up where we are with the WCA, and why, then this is an essential read. The same caveats we wrote last time probably still apply.

The ink still wet minutes of the probably not even finished last meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group.

The minutes of the latest meeting of the NWMHWRAG are already available as are the notes from the talk on claiming the mobility component of PIP for people with mental health conditions. Both documents will as ever be stored permanently within the relevant NWMHWRAG pages, and if you wish to check you’ll find they’re already there.

Related to the above the RF High Court Judgement can be found at http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2017/3375.html and there is an addendum to the notes from the talk:

Psychological distress is defined in the Interpretation to the PIP descriptors as “distress related to an enduring mental health condition or an intellectual or cognitive impairment.”