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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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.

The rapid demise of local authority welfare assistance schemes, Universal Credit and complex need plans.

GMPA have produced an excellent report – “local welfare assistance schemes: the urgent need for a new approach” – weirdly enough talking about the urgent need for a new approach to local welfare assistance. Information wasn’t obtained in the case of 19 local authorities but nevertheless key findings include

Key findings include:

  • 22 local authorities don’t operate local welfare assistance schemes. GMPA estimates that this means 7.75 million people are living in areas where crisis support isn’t available.
  • A further 29 schemes are under threat, with local authorities having cut the budget for their schemes by two-thirds over the last three years or operating schemes on budgets of less than £100,000 a year.
  • The number of awards made through Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans was over 1.3 million in 2010/11 and over 700k in 2012/13 (the final year of the national scheme). This compares to a little over 161k successful applications for support through local welfare assistance schemes in 2017/18. This represents a fall in support of 88% between 2010/11 and 2017/18.
  • In Greater Manchester, spending on crisis support in 2017/18 was £3.8 million. This is over £15 million lower than spending under Crisis Loan and Community Care Grant provision in 2010/11. The number of successful applications for support through local schemes in Greater Manchester was 10,077 in 2017/18 compared to 123,220 Community Care Grants and Crisis Loan awards made in 2010/11.

The context for this decimation needs to be that, where an area has Universal Credit full service, complex needs plans may be referencing local welfare assistance which no longer exists. We don’t need to add anything to that do we! Well, there’s this we suppose.

Fifty shades of, er…

Back in the mists of time (well April) GMWRAG posted about the remarkable “Fifty blogs for fifty years” from the Social Policy Association. Since then a further 10 blogs have been posted and this seemed to be an appropriate moment to update on some of the thought provoking and relevant highlights. The links are below.

No 27: Social security reforms have channelled welfare towards the rich: what research and policy agenda does this set? (by Daniel Edmisten).

No 28: The people’s stake – could a UK citizens’ wealth fund tackle the inequality crisis? (by Stewart Lansley).

No 33: Trade unions and social protection – why the strength of collective organisation matters for social security (by Elke Heins).

No 34: Shining a light: reporting on equalities and protected characteristics (by Sarah Vickerstaff).

GMWRAG will be testing you all on these 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.

A tug on the heartstrings.

It has come to GMWRAGs attention that the next meeting of the Manchester Tribunal User Group has finally been scheduled for Friday the 26th of October 2018 at 10am. This will be held at Manchester Crown Court Building, Ground Floor, Crown Square off Bridge Street, Manchester M3 3FL. The formal invitation, in case you haven’t received one, can be viewed here. Please note that the 2nd page of the invitation is the means by which you can raise questions in advance.

Such is the infrequency and poor communication around these occasions nowadays that GMWRAG had to have a quick debate about whether it should be catagorised as a meeting or an event! Some of us recall when there were supposed to be 4 TUGs a year and have protested for at least a decade at the reduction to 1 inevitably meaningless meeting per annum. Now it would appear we are down to 1 every 18 months, although that rather assumes that the next 1 will be 18 months away and there appear to be no guarantees on that.

For those of you who need reminding, here is a copy of the minutes of the last meeting and here is a copy of the GMWRAG notes on same. The former took a massive 2 months to produce by which time most of the issues raised had been forgotten. The former took less than 1 day! Granted the former is faster than the speed many statements of reasons and record of proceedings requests are dealt with but it does rather sum up our dilemma with HMCTS Local. On the one hand we would always want to be involved in meaningful liaison. On the other hand it’s inevitable that something which no longer has any recent history of meaningful liaison is now nothing more than a localised broadcast. The less the frequency the more that is true.

This also has to be seen in the context of recent but separate communications from HMCTS belatedly asking WR advisers and their clients to get involved in real world testing of

  • online service design review sessions at your location with clients and /or welfare rights officers, reps, advisors and case workers;
  • Attending workshops to feedback on service design.
  • Identifying appellants who have used the new online ‘Appeal a benefit decision’ service and are willing to provide feedback on it.

What could better sum up the usefulness of our local TUG than the statement in the notes that

“The judiciary already have a forum re: practical issues around digitisation held in the Crown Court. We could feed back into that but TS appeared to welcome the idea of more regular meetings with parties interested in this in order that TS could then feedback issues and suggestions nationally.”

The minutes record that this suggestion would be forwarded “… to the relevant people”. 18 months later and nothing has happened at all in consequence.

Actually, there is 1 thing which could better sum up the current position with HMCTS. The 1st tribunal in 18 months has been listed for a week which is the half term holiday for most schools in the North West of England! GMWRAG would ordinarily be minded to protest but fears that we may never see a TUG in Manchester again were we to do so.

Complex needs plans and They Work For You.

GMWRAG recently brought to your attention that we now have an account with WhatDoTheyKnow and after our first experience of using the account we have been casting about to see what we can do next. We now have an obvious answer.

Every JCP needs to create their own complex needs plan to support claimants with the aforesaid complex needs. These are based on templates produced by DWP but nevertheless show great variation. We understand that many local offices are insisting said documents are not publicly available, which seems rather bizarre as this is surely crying out to be a living document worked on in partnership. Equally we understand that these documents will be put into the public domain if an FOI request is submitted and Owen Stevens has been doing some fine work on this front down in Greenwich.

It’s interesting to read his experience that

“A common feature of all the complex needs plans is a list of local and national organisations relevant to particular groups that the JCP imagine may present with complex needs.  I’ve attached an example of the types of groups considered in one plan.

One or two of the plans seem not to involve much more than a list of signposting.

Most of the plans do include quite comprehensive signposting in each area. The lists are so comprehensive that it may be difficult for staff under time pressure to absorb all the information. Jobcentre may find it more useful to flag up a couple of key contacts before going on to list the more extensive signposting.

I can’t see that any of the plans I’ve looked at have included information about discretionary funds such as local welfare assistance, etc.

None of the plans seem to include a list of common problems (for example claim for terminally ill people, transferring ESA components to UC, etc).  It may be useful for complex needs plans to include a regularly updated list of problems, the correct process, and fixes for these problems.

We hope to set up an arrangement where the JCP can flag up complex needs to the local authority. If this progresses this arrangement could be set up in the complex needs plan.” …

“… I actually think that they have potential to be made into quite effective documents which could take a lot of pressure off the advice sector by enabling DWP to resolve problems before they ever reach us.

However, it’s clear that in their current form even the best of these documents leave quite a lot to be desired…”

“… I still get the impression that they remain very far from the kinds of documents that will enable work coaches to effectively support vulnerable claimants.”

GMWRAG heartily endorses both the approach and the views expressed by Owen to accompany them. What we would like members in the North West to do is to contact GMWRAG if you already have a copy of your complex needs plan and we’ll post them up here as a central repository of the up to date position in your area as well as (hopefully) examples of best practice.

If you don’t have a copy but would like to obtain one, again, please contact GMWRAG and we’ll do the hard miles and make the request for each of the JCPs in your area via WhatDoTheyKnow.

Details of the next meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group.

The next meeting will on Friday the 28th of September 2018 at 9.30am for a 10am start.

We have changed venue. This meeting will be in the Community Room at Central Manchester Fire Station, Cassidy Close off Thompson Street, Manchester M4 5FP.

It’s a short walk from Piccadilly and there is a car park on Thompson Street.

The Community Room has its own entrance. Please don’t enter the Fire Station by any other entrance.

From Cassidy Close you take the first turning on the left. Walk towards the building and then turn left again. You should now be at the back of the building. Walk towards a set of double doors under an overhang. The entrance to the Community Room is on the right just before you reach the double doors.

We don’t have a speaker for this meeting, so it will be an information exchange.

We are looking for a speaker on Universal Credit for a future meeting, so if anyone knows someone who could talk to us about hints and tips on claiming under Full Service, please contact Helen Rogers.

We had been looking for a speaker on the Equality Act and Jo Chimes of the Equality and Diversity Forum has kindly agreed to speak to us. She has worked alongside the Equality and Human Rights Commission on this issue.  As a number of other groups in the area have also approached Jo to speak at their meetings, we are holding this meeting in conjunction with GMWRAG and the Greater Manchester Strategic Casework Group.  This means the meeting will be a day long event and will be on Friday the 18th of January 2019. More details are already available at https://gmwrag.wordpress.com/2018/09/14/gmwrag-attempts-to-bend-time-and-space-2019-here-we-come-with-another-big-announcement although it’s unlikely all NWMHWRAG members can be accommodated as the room holds 50 people and both GMWRAG and GMSCG members will want to attend.

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.