This is the first of three posts covering the Welfare Rights training we crowdfunded.
This first post is about why we ran it.
Why did we run this 2 day training course?
Because the odds are stacked against benefits claimants, in particular those with mental health problems. The DWP have £22 million to represent themselves in Personal Independent Payments (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) tribunals (source: Benefits and Work) but since 2013, people challenging benefit decisions are no longer allowed to get legal aid. This saved the Ministry of Justice – wait for it – £22 million. (source: CPAG)
On our Facebook group and in our personal lives, we keep hearing how stressful applying for ESA and PIP is and how hard it is to get support and good advice.
“weapons grade evidence is crucial”
The Work Capability Assessment for ESA is directly discriminatory and biased against mental health claimants and the Work Related Activity (WRAG) of ESA is going to be reduced to the same level as Job Seekers Allowance (JSA).
The impact of assessments are having a negative impact on our mental health – an article in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in November 2015 links WCA tests for ESA with possible additional 590 suicides, increased mental health problems and hundreds of thousands of antidepressant prescriptions. This is all due to the pressure of receiving the forms, how difficult they are to fill in, the prospect of an assessment, and what is at stake i.e. losing the ability to live practically or work. (PIP is not means tested and can be claimed by disabled people in employment.)
The critieria ESA and PIP are more focused on more physical impairments and learning disabilities and this makes it more difficult for people with mental health problems to successfully claim.
Many people have been discharged from secondary mental health services because of cuts despite ongoing or enduring needs, and they cannot always access medical evidence from their former service.
GP’s may not be familiar with their difficulties and needs, and some surgeries charge fees for a letter to accompany a form, or won’t write it anything till the claim is in appeal. GP’s (and mental health professionals) need to understand that a succinct letter accompanying a form could help to prevent weeks/months of loss of income and having to go through a tribunal. It helps with ESA claims if professional supporters can make it clear that their patient is not fit for assessment, attendance at a JCP for training, work placements or employment, and to outline why and what risks this presents. Many do not know that they can do this.
So with critieria not designed for mental health problems and the difficulties in getting useful medical information from secondary or primary care, people with mental health problems are really up against it. At the same time, advice services are being cut.
That’s why we decided to run this training. We hope to encourage and inspire other groups to do similar things.
We wanted to equip ex/current mental health service users (all with previous/current experience of being a claimant) with the skills to: teach others how to fill in forms and gather evidence and to fill in or review forms with people online, by phone, or face to face, or accompany to assessments.
Often people with mental health problems feel more comfortable taking support from fellow survivors who understand the specific discrimination inherent within these processes.
14 people from RITB and across the UK attended our two day training course focusing on ESA and PIP.
“first public group situation I haven’t left in first couple of hours and didn’t feel completely out of place”
We asked everyone to pledge to pass on their skills – to learn and ‘pass the parcel’, so that 14 people with knowledge became 28 and so on, a ‘ripple out’ cascade effect of teaching and peer support.
RITB are very grateful to the following:
“there are people who actually care”
- Everyone who donated money to make this happen
- MHRN for use of their bank account
- Rethink who offered us hospitality and a free room for both days
- Our trainer Tom Messere and co-trainer Yvonne, author of The Big Book of Benefits
- RITB member Alex Williams for taking amazingly comprehensive notes
- Everyone for taking part
- And the biggest thanks to Maddog who was both driving force and organiser extraordinaire for this training:
It was personally a pleasure to organise and see people come together in solidarity and share a lot themselves, to put some faces to names and we had some lighter moments along the way too, with the occasional bark. Maddog