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…

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GMWRAG attempts to bend time and space. 2019 here we come with another big announcement.

GMWRAG is busy compiling a list of the many UC issues you have kindly sent us in order to put together a draft agenda for our October meeting in Trafford to agree with the office of our special guest, Neil Couling, the Director General of the Universal Credit Programme.

In the meantime, we are pleased to announce initial details of the January 2019 GWMRAG meeting and we hope GMWRAG members will be as excited by this as we are.

GMWRAG, Tameside WRS, NWMHWRAG and GMSCG presents

“Everyday Equality: challenging discrimination in the welfare benefits system” featuring Jo Chimes and a whole lot more.

The meeting is hosted by Tameside. It is a full day event and will take place at the LGBT Foundation, 5 Richmond Street, Manchester, M1 3HF on Friday the 18th of January 2019 We’ll be open for refreshments, networking and juicy gossip for 9:30am with a planned running time of 10am to 4pm.

This will be the northern version of the excellent event run for those grim southerners by Jo in May 2018. You can read more about that here and we recommend all potential attendees download a copy of the absolutely invaluable “Practical Equality Rights in Welfare Benefits Advice” in advance of attending.

As we’re limited to 50 attendees we’ll be using a GMWRAG Eventbrite account and asking people to book through that for the first time. There is no cost attached to this. It’s just a practical way of managing numbers. As NWMHWRAG members attempted to book Jo first we’re going to attempt to put out some early bird tickets exclusively for them but no promises on that. We’re still figuring it out. Registration is not yet available. We will post when it goes live.

An agenda for the day plus details of any additional speakers will be posted as soon as finalised but you can realistically expect this to be post the Trafford meeting in October as that is currently fully occupying the GMWRAG hive mind.

CPAG Welfare Rights Conference 2018 and some ideas for our October 2018 meeting in Trafford.

Welfare Rights Conference 2018

Universally discredited – How can we make the failing universal credit work for families?

In Manchester on Thursday the 13th of September 2018.

Book now

Despite a growing avalanche of evidence that universal credit (UC) is causing hardship and pushing thousands of children and their families further into poverty, the roll out of UC continues.

The National Audit Office found that one in every five claimants do not receive their full payment on time and the DWP’s own research highlights that just over half of claimants are able to register their claim online without assistance.

With ‘managed’ migration due to start in July 2019, the administrative and systemic problems with UC will only be magnified.

This conference will give delegates the opportunity to discuss the latest developments and hear from political leaders, policy makers and experts in the field on how best to support and advise UC claimants in such a hostile and challenging environment.

For more details on the planned workshops and programme, together with instructions on how to book your place, please see below.

Workshops

Delegates will have the opportunity to attend two workshops from the four listed below.

Claiming UC: now and under managed migration – “the one in five” failure rate 

Martin Williams, Welfare Rights Worker at CPAG

DWP Figures show 20% of people who attempt to claim UC are refused due to failing to attend or book an interview or for other administrative reasons. With the proposed regulations on “Managed Migration” requiring claimants of legacy benefits to submit claims for UC when notified to do so, rather than a process of automatically transferring them to the new benefit, this is particularly worrying.

In this workshop we will look at:

  • The UC claims process and how DWP handling of this issue arguably differs from what is in the regulations.
  • Challenging decisions “closing” claims.
  • The proposed managed migration rules on claiming and foreseeable problems claimants are likely to encounter when instructed to claim UC.
  • Possibilities for strategic litigation in this area.
Right to reside and habitual residence tests for UC
Rebecca Walker, Author and Trainer at CPAG
Many EEA nationals are being refused universal credit on the basis that they are not accepted as being habitually resident or having a qualifying right to reside – even when they were previously receiving legacy benefits.
This workshop will consider some of the current issues including:
  • The way the residence tests operate for UC
  • Issues for claimants previously receiving legacy benefits
  • Particular groups experiencing difficulties such as EEA nationals not considered to be working enough and those seeking to claim on the basis of a derivative right to reside
Tactics for dealing with UC sanctions
Dan Norris, Welfare Rights Worker at CPAG
Sanctions are a significant problem for the increasing number of universal credit claimants. Focussing on work related requirement sanctions, this workshop will give advisers the skills to support clients who have been sanctioned or are in danger of being sanctioned.
  • How the UC sanctions regime has increased pressure on claimants
  • How to agree work related requirements to reduce the threat of sanctions
  • Which temporary suspension of work related requirements can help your client
  • Reducing the duration of sanctions
  • Challenging sanctions
UC and disability
Simon Osborne, Welfare Rights Worker at CPAG, and Steph Pike, Acting Head of Advice and Rights at CPAG
This workshop looks at some of the main rules, problems and solutions regarding UC for people with disabilities. It aims to cover recent developments and also to allow participants to share experience and views.
Topics covered include:
  • The WCA and transfers from ESA to UC
  • UC and severe disability  – the latest
  • Problems and solutions in practice (work, study and others)
Programme
09.15 – 10.00 Arrival, registration, coffee and exhibition stand viewing
10:00 – 11.15 Host welcome and keynote speakers (tbc)
11.15 – 11.30 Refreshment break and viewing of exhibition stands
11.30 – 12.45 Workshops – morning session
12.45 – 13.30 Lunch and viewing of exhibition stands
13.30 – 14.45 Workshops – afternoon session
14.45 – 15.00 Refreshment break and viewing of exhibition stands
15.00 – 16.00 Panel discussion and Q&A
As a precursor to all of the above, attendees may wish to read CPAGs summary of the 8 main UC issues identified by their Early Warning System. Some, but not all, of these issues may be relevant to bring into the room for our October 2018 meeting in Trafford. Either way they’ll provide some focus to initial thoughts.
Confirmed Speakers

Manchester

Kate Green MP, Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston
Graham Witham , Director of Greater Manchester Poverty Action
Dr Lisa Scullion, Reader in Social Policy, University of Salford

Venue
Our Manchester venue is the University of Manchester Innovation Centre, Core Technology Facility, 46 Grafton Street, Manchester, M13 9NT
Our London venue is Herbert Smith Freehills, Exchange House, Primrose Street, London, EC2A 2EG
Exhibition Space

There will be an exhibition space hosting exhibitors showcasing their work, products and services. If you are interested in exhibiting, please email Sebastien at sclark@cpag.org.uk.

Booking a place

Delegate tickets, which include a choice of four expert workshops, teas, coffees, buffet lunch and conference materials, start from £150.00 for voluntary organisations and £195 for statutory and lawyers.

To book your place(s) please complete the online booking form here.

Please note that bookings cannot be processed until you have selected your workshops, and workshops will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

A human rights approach to welfare conditionality.

Greater Manchester Strategic Casework Group members Sian Jordan and Jo Chimes recently went to the Welfare Conditionality conference in York  and presented a paper. The PowerPoint presentation and the paper itself have kindly been made available to GMWRAG and we think they are well worth sharing, particularly in the context of the approach being advocated by GMSCG itself. The conference website also has the slides and paper along with lots of other really great presentations which are well worth a read.

In the meantime have a read of

A rights based approach to conditionality – the presentation.

A human rights based approach to conditionality – the paper.

and lets not forget the fantastic Welfare Conditionality site itself.

Those of you with an ongoing interest can follow the work @EqualityACRH on Twitter as well as Jo herself @chimesjo. Both the above documents will be permanently available as part of the GMSCG pages where we have just this minute added a News page for exactly what Father Ted would call “this sort of thing”.

“… supportive eye rolling”.

GMWRAG is having an enjoyable “long post” period and our recent UC post was given considerable traction by social media so we’re not going to apologise for the length of this one.

Once again we offer thanks to our friends at Righstnet but before reading this it’s worth understanding what a UN Special Rapporteur actually is else the significance of the person and the action may not register.

The title Special Rapporteur is given to individuals working on behalf of the UN within the scope of “special procedure” mechanisms who have a specific country or thematic mandate from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The term “rapporteur” is a French-derived word for an investigator who reports to a deliberative body.

The mandate from the UN has been to “examine, monitor, advise, and publicly report” on human rights problems through “activities undertaken by special procedures, including responding to individual complaints, psychological operations and manipulation via the controlled media and academia, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation at the country level, and engaging in general promotional activities.”

Yes, you read that right. “… human rights problems… individual complaints, psychological operations and manipulations”. Worth bearing that in mind the day after the Public Accounts Committee heard the following surreal statements regarding Universal Credit.

“Q96 – Luke Graham MP: why do you think that food bank footfall is increasing in areas where we have full-service Universal Credit?

Peter Schofield: I don’t know. It is a really good question …”

“Q132 – Peter Schofield: …. just because you can’t measure something, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

Gareth Snell MP: Like hardship?”

“Q146 – Shabana Mahmood MP: Mr Schofield and Mr Couling, just thinking about the demeanour with which you are giving evidence today, has it ever occurred to you that a little humility and a willingness to listen might go a long way towards rebuilding some trust in this process?

Chair: Mr Schofield.

Peter Schofield: No, look, well, I—

Chair: No. Thank you. That was very cat out of the bag.”

“Q160 – Chair: Perhaps you can help us out by saying which of the stakeholders and organisations are only raising issues because they don’t approve of the policy. Which of the organisations that we heard from earlier, or that you have heard from, are doing this because they don’t agree with Government policy and actually want to undermine it? Do you want to name them? It would help us to know which ones are doing that.

Peter Schofield: No, I don’t particularly want to name them here …”

“Q225 – Chair: What worries you about that? We have covered some of that today, but what genuinely worries you about what could go wrong there? A lot could go wrong. Every individual is different.

Neil Couling: I worry about the perception of Universal Credit. I am on record saying I am worried about how some of the debate is carrying on and what that is doing to claimants, making them quite fearful. There are a large number of people who will gain from this move over to Universal Credit, getting higher entitlements, but all of the media noise about it is making people quite fearful and I am worried about that…”

“Neil Couling: Yes, and I think we have good policy here, but that may be because I am the one who gave this advice.

Chair: I record for the record the eye-rolling of the permanent secretary.

Peter Schofield: It was a supportive eye-rolling. You will see that on the video afterwards.”

Anyways…

The United Nations Special Rapporteur, Professor Philip Alston (and you can read more about him here), is seeking evidence relating to poverty and human rights ahead of his UK visit in November 2018. Particular areas of interest include austerity and the implementation of Universal Credit.

Professor Alston’s visit – which will take place between the 6th and 16th of November 2018 – will focus on the interlinkages between poverty and the realisation of human rights in the UK.

Calling for written submissions by Friday the 14th of September 2018, Professor Alston highlights a number of themes to focus on, including austerity and universal credit, and he asks –

  • have austerity measures implemented by the government taken adequate account of the impact on vulnerable groups and reflected efforts to minimize negative effects for those groups and individuals?
  • what have the effects of austerity been on poverty (and inequality) levels in the UK in the last decade?
  • have the human rights of individuals experiencing poverty been affected by austerity measures?
  • how have local governments been affected by austerity measures in the last decades by, for example, administration of the welfare system?
  • what alternatives to austerity might have been considered by governments in the last decade that might have had a more positive impact on poverty (and inequality) levels in the United Kingdom?
  • what has the impact of universal credit been on poverty and the lives of the poor in the UK until now, particularly considering specific groups, including for example children, persons with disabilities, women and other groups which may be more vulnerable on the basis of their identity and circumstances?
  • what has been the impact of universal credit being a ‘digital-only benefit’ on the ability of potential claimants to apply for this benefit?
  • what has the impact been of various forms of ‘welfare conditionality’ in the context of universal credit in terms of incentivising work?
  • to what extent has the introduction of universal credit reduced the incidence of fraud and error in the welfare system?

For more information see Visit by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 6 to 16 November 2018 from the UN website. You could also perhaps tweet him @Alston_UNSR.

It’s time for the Public Law Project annual North conference.

This year, the PLP annual North conference, in Manchester, is on the theme of Legal Aid and Society. It takes place on Thursday the 19th of July 2019 and as in 2018 it will take place at BPP Law School, St James’s Building, Oxford Street, Manchester M1 6FQ

As the Government reviews the implementation of LASPO, we look at access to legal aid and the impact of legal aid cuts on society.

The conference presents a unique mix of practical workshops, research, discussion, and informal exchange with leading experts in legal aid, access to justice and advice provision.

Legal Aid and low income

Today the legal aid system only provides for people on the very lowest incomes and even those receiving out of work benefits are often excluded due the value of their homes being taken into account. Millions with low working incomes cannot afford to pay legal costs, whilst the numbers struggling to reach an acceptable standard of living has risen significantly. This talk looks at how austerity and legal aid cuts interact.

Prof Donald Hirsch, Loughborough University

Challenging procurement and grant funding decisions – what you need to know

This session will focus on Legal Aid Agency contracts, bids for grant funding and other public contracts, practice and procedure: the Public Contracts Regulations and judicial review

Polly Brendon, Public Law Project

Jason Coppel QC at 11KBW 

Exceptional Case Funding 

There are Common misconceptions regarding what is out of scope of Exceptional Case Funding (ECF), immigration and housing in particular. This session look at how to apply for ECF, common problems and what we know about success rates.

Joseph Markus and James Stark, Garden Court North 

Katy Watts, Public Law Project

Legal aid and access to justice for modern slavery victims

This session will look at immigration legal aid for modern slavery victims and a recent judicial review of the Legal Aid Agency when legal aid was refused for a victim. It will also look at cases highlighting why legal aid is essential to build the case of leave to remain during the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) process and to challenging unlawful decisions on leave.

Lucy Mair, Garden Court North

Carita Thomas, Anti–Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU)

Preparing evidence for the LASPOA review

This session will seek to help organisations or individuals preparing to feed into the Governments review of LASPOA implementation. It will look at evidence gathering and presentation and how to show insight from your clients or your organisations perspective.

Jess Mant, Cardiff University School of Law and Politics

Carol Storer, Legal Aid Practitioners Group

Emma Marshall, Public Law Project

Top legal aid and access to justice cases of recent years

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012) has generated a significant number of cases challenging the legislation and its implementation on behalf of those affected. Alison will look at the impact of the cases and some themes running through them.

Alison Pickup, Legal Director, Public Law Project

The experiences of self-representing litigants
This presentation concerns a three year project interviewing litigants in person (LIPS). Although Jess’s work focuses on the family court, the presentation will consider common problems facing those appearing in court without representation.

Jess Mant, Cardiff University School for Law and Politics

The full agenda can be found on the PLP web site whilst the pdf programme can be found here. Last year GMWRAG members, probably for the first time, attended en masse and were overwhelmed with the sheer quality of what was on offer in terms of the standard of speakers; the quality of the workshops and the intensity of the day. The buffet wasn’t half bad either.

NAWRA coming to the North West of England.

It has been a couple of months since GMWRAG posted anything in respect of our friends at NAWRA. Details of future NAWRA meetings have caught our eye though because early in March 2019 NAWRA will be coming to your area (the North West of England) and to Salford in particular. We will be playing an active role in publicising said meeting but in the meantime details of the next two NAWRA meetings are below.

The next meeting will take place from 10am-4pm (registration from 9.30am) on Friday the 7th of September 2018 at Renfield St Stephen’s Centre, 260 Bath St, Glasgow G2 4JP (hosted by Glasgow City Council).

Following that meeting the next two meetings will be

Durham on Friday the 7th of December 2018 which will be held at Town Hall, Market Place, Durham DH1 3NJ (hosted by Durham County Council) and then Salford on Friday the 1st of March 2019.

Further details to follow as we have them.

Some sad news for GMWRAG members.

GMWRAG is very sad indeed to report that Steve Ogden, formerly of Tameside Welfare Rights Service, passed away on the 18th of May 2018.

Starting his working life as an electrician, Steve had to change his occupation following a serious motor bike accident in which his left arm was paralysed. He became a welfare rights officer and advocate in employment tribunals, managing for some years the independent Welfare Rights Unit in Hyde, Tameside. He later moved to a welfare rights officer role at Tameside Council, where he was a member of the Unite union.

As well as a working life dedicated to supporting others, he did voluntary work with the innovative Manchester homelessness charity, Lifeshare, and later in a service supporting victims of child abuse.

Steve has served as Treasurer, Membership Secretary and Vice-Chair of Left Unity in Stockport. He also took roles at national level as a member of the Party’s Disputes Committee and its Trade Union Commission.

Steve developing ideas for a Solidarity drop-in in Stockport. From his work as a welfare rights officer specialising in mental health, Steve had identified a need for support for claimants of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) with the forms that have to be completed.

In the two and a half years since, Solidarity Drop-in (every Monday in Disability Stockport on High Street) has gone from strength to strength and has helped nearly 500 people navigate the PIP/ESA assessment treadmill. An enormous amount of the credit for this success goes to Steve.

We send our sincerest and deepest sympathy and condolences to his family and to all of his many friends and comrades.

Steve helped set up the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group nearly 20 years ago and has been one of the main organisers ever since.  He continued to attend, and bring new people with him, even after he took early retirement.

Steve was a committed campaigner for social justice – both in his work and outside of it.  He volunteered with Tameside, Oldham and Glossop MIND.  He joined the campaign against cuts to mental health services in Stockport which was successful. He helped to set up Stockport United Against Austerity which campaigns against welfare reform and all cuts to public services. As a lifelong Manchester United fan, Steve was very pleased with the title of that group.
https://gmwrag.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php?cap#cap

Outside of work he loved to play badminton and squash. He loved hiking and he was an avid Manchester United fan. As a result of his accident he could not drink due to medication, but whenever he met someone new and the conversation turned to alcohol he would state (with a mischievous half smile) “I don’t drink since I found god” and would start to sing “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam”. It would take about 2 minutes to realise he was joking.

Steve will be greatly missed. Colleagues wishing to pay their respects should be aware that his funeral takes place on Tuesday the 5th of June 2018 at 12.45pm at Cyprus Chapel, Stockport Crematorium Buxton Road SK2 6LS. Burial takes place at 13.45 followed by a wake at 14.15 at the Waterside Hotel and Leisure Club, Wilmslow Road Didsbury M20 5WZ.

GMWRAG would like to thank Helen Rogers of Stockport Advice and Stephen Adams-Corbett of Tameside Welfare Rights Service for their kind permission to use their words to pay tribute to Steve. We are bitterly disappointed to be unable to use one of the many great photos of Steve which people have gathered over the years.

The Equality and Diversity Forum launch “Practical Equality Rights in Welfare Benefits” handbook.

Equality and Diversity Forum have now launched their ground-breaking online handbook, Practical Equality Rights in Welfare Benefits Advice, to help everyone providing advice or information on welfare benefits to use equality rights to solve everyday discrimination problems. The handbook is part of the Everyday Equality project, funded by the EHRC.

What is the Practical Equality Rights in Welfare Benefits Advice handbook?

For welfare benefits advisers and information providers working in community groups and advice organisations, the handbook has tips and tools about identifying discrimination. For advisers we have case studies, checklist and tools to help you use the Equality Act to solve your client’s everyday problems in a practical way.

For advice managers, the handbook has a new guide about managing and improving the delivery of discrimination advice.

The handbook also includes a new guide to demonstrating the equality impact of welfare benefits advice, using the Equality and Human Rights Commission Measurement Framework, an A-Z of Equality Rights, a directory of equality resources, FAQs, four downloadable posters, and a downloadable ‘quick guide’.

What’s next?

They are developing a short set of materials to help advice agencies to use the new online handbook and to raise awareness with their advisers. If you are interested in piloting or using these materials please let us know: jo.chimes@edf.org.uk

They are hoping to run a small event later in the year, in Manchester. If you are interested in taking part or attending, please let them know: jo.chimes@edf.org.uk

They would be pleased to hear from you with questions, suggestions and feedback on the handbook. Please contact them at info@edf.org.uk.

View our online handbook or download our quick guide (pdf).

To stay in touch with their work, and for updates to the handbook: