Category: Welfare reform
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
FM - Fiona McHardy
JB - Jackie Barton
CW - Chris White
LM - Lorraine McGrath
AM - Andrew MacDonald
LS - Lesley Sharkey
IK - Isobel Kelly
BL - Barry Levine
It’s Challenge Poverty Week 2013, and to mark it Iriss recently hosted a round-table discussion on the subject of welfare reform. The topic was ‘The effects of welfare reform on practice and practitioners - how can we continue to deliver positive services?’ The seven participants include Jackie Barton from the Direct Access Accommodation Service at Aspire Scotland, Lorraine McGrath, Chief Executive of Glasgow Simon Community, Barrie Levine, Lecturer in Social Work at Glasgow Caledonian University, Chris White from the Scottish Mental Health User Research Network, Isobel Kelly (Team Manager, Money Matters), at North Ayrshire Council, Lesley Sharkey, Service Leader at C-Change and Andrew MacDonald (Planning and Development Manager) at East Ayrshire Council. The discussion was chaired by Fiona McHardy, Community Research Officer at Poverty Alliance. Fiona gets the discussion underway …
FM So just to start by opening up today’s debate, what do we feel are the most pressing issues currently affecting service delivery as a result of the welfare changes?
JB I think sanctions are having a big impact on the people that Aspire are supporting - more and more people are being sanctioned. They have got chaotic backgrounds, they are signing up to job security agreements that they can’t adhere to, they have short term memory problems, they don’t know when they are supposed to go for their appointments, and then when they do apply for jobs they are unable to keep hold of the diary - they lose their diary, they are not keeping their diary - and employers really aren’t interested in employing most of them either.
FM So there are big issues in terms of sanctions, there is a key issue affecting your particular service. What other changes are affecting service delivery?
SW If you look at the range of welfare reforms, it’s quite clear that they are going to have a big impact on people’s lives. The changes that we have seen so far, we are going to start seeing lower fixed personal independence payments which are going to have a significant impact, particularly on those people who are currently on the lower levels of Disability living Allowance. Those impacts have had and will continue to bear increased pressure on services and additional demands for support workers in services - and given the background, the funding background that we are currently in, where services are in themselves facing financial pressures, facing cut backs, we have that kind of increased demand on less resources to manage.
LM I totally agree with the sanctions in terms of problems with the population sanctions are creating an awful lot of problems and having very sustained impact, because it could be 2 or 3 weeks of sanctions - but that is tipping people into crisis situations that has very long term impacts - some people are going to pay day loans, getting themselves into a cycle of debt, simply from that 2-3 week period, that is then unsustainable and is just spiralling out of control. There are 2 other parts of the picture that I think, probably from our perspective, have a major issue. One of them is a very practical one and that is the online application process and the reality of that for service users … I believe, across all client groups, not just in our client group … and the other part of it is the reality that in terms of access to accommodation, which I am sure the LSA are seeing a lot of issues around, is that the system, which was already under massive pressure, particularly for single adults for safe accommodation, is under greater pressure now because Housing Associations and Housing providers have to respond to the demand of their own Tenants, existing Tenants looking to downsize because of the so called “bedroom tax”.
AM Just picking up on that, the reforms embedded so far, the “bedroom tax” regulation is the one that has had a huge effect in East Ayrshire where I work, both in terms of impact on individuals and their personal budgets, but also in terms of the Council and the (… unclear) rent - and picking up on Chris’s point on that, has a knock on effect on the capacity of the Council to fund and provide a free service.
LS Just in terms of the “bedroom tax”, the thing for us is just some conflicting information - some of the people we work for have 24/7 support or have overnight - someone staying in their home overnight, so they are classed as a bed. Some on occasion, will require that support, but not all the time - and there’s differing opinions as to whether or not they could be classed as exempt, and then there is a whole load of stress and additional telephone conversations and paperwork that come with that, that people are finding quite difficult to deal with and are requiring a lot of support with. The other thing is just the lack of information for people - the information that does come out is very kind of long wielded, it’s always in a written format, people have difficulty understanding what the impact is. So again, as an organisation, you take almost the ownership and responsibility for ensuring that people understand what their rights are - and also a lot of that takes up additional resources, you know, from the organisation - it really should be coming from the Department for Work & Pensions.
IK The point I was going to make touches on the two points just made - many of us work in local government that are funded by local government, and it seems to me that the welfare savings are transferring across to local government, so what we see even with some individuals and small groups, many local authorities have the ‘bedroom tax’. Whereas, in actual fact, the local authorities are picking up the cost of that and they are putting in services to support people through welfare reform, they are administering new services that have been transferred over, sometimes without the proper funding or appropriate funding for the full cost - and that just means that the services … they are frontline services, at a time when budgets are under pressure and everything is just being more thinly spread.
FM So we have got issues in terms of the range of welfare reform changes, the online application process, the lack of information and how it is understood, misinformation within communities, related funding issues.
JB Something I am hearing a lot is that people are quite anxious about monthly payments coming in - a lot of the people that come into the Direct Access Service have a struggle to meet a fortnightly payment lasting, and they are already expressing “I don’t know what I will do with this”, or “I might kill myself if I have got all this money at the one time”. There is a real fear and anxiety around it before it has even happened.
BL A general set of issues, I mean I am not involved in direct service provision myself just now, but I have been picking up both from working with students and general, you know, sort of general work - there is a whole serious set of pressures. I mean I think that the issues can be seen in a kind of broader context in the kind of breadth of reforms and the depth of the reforms that have taken place, which are breath-taking actually in terms of the kind of the quantity and speed with which it is happening. And I think what we are seeing is probably the most significant attack on the welfare state that we have in the last 50 years, since the welfare state came into existence - and a shift to try and end up with some form of purely residual form of welfare. And I think it’s dressed up in terms of austerity - that’s the argument that is put across. I think it’s .. part of the issue that we find in universities is debating with students about why this is taking place and what we you should be doing about it. It’s interesting, the attitudes which you come across, because I think for a lot of people whom kind of feel that they are not involved in service delivery - then the difficulty is that they kind of tend to fall I think for the sort of common sense arguments that are put forward in the media and such like, and tend to kind of fall into the arguments about seeing people as sort of scroungers, when you get statements about “something for nothing society”, that kind of issue really doesn’t help … and the impact that has on people themselves who are actually living on benefits is significant - and the contact we have with service user groups indicates that. There was a survey carried out in 2012 I think it was, by ICM and GP’s who found that sort of significant numbers of people had considered committing suicide as a consequence of work related assessments and such like. So I mean there are real, real issues I think, and real pressure, and greater levels of poverty as a consequence.
FM Yes, I think you have made some interesting points about the breadth and depth of these reforms and the speed that it is coming in, and what kind of impact is this having within service delivery? Obviously we have talked a bit about capacity and trying to mitigate, but what about, you know, the speed of the changes, because we have had quite a few come in this year already?
CW I think there are real problems for how services respond to welfare reform, and since 2007 we have seen a speed up of welfare reforms, but actually this is something that has its roots way before 2007 and we started this process of essentially changing the welfare state back in the late 1990’s. So essentially a change of government is not going to roll back a lot of the changes that we have seen. So there are things that are going to be there long term - there are things that we need to think about how we respond to those services. The other implications that are there, and was just said, in relation to stigma - Glasgow University reported that since 2007, the way that we refer to people with disabilities in the press has increased … I think it is 3 fold since 2007. So the terms of ‘scroungers’, ‘work-shy’ and ’lazy’ being referred to, to certain groups of people. As services, that has an implication of the public perception of what services do. Are you going to give charitable income to an organisation that works with lazy, work-shy scroungers? So that’s another implication that services have to deal with, or that perception, what that stigma perception is going to do to funding streams there. So we really need to think about how we address those issues as well.
FM What experiences have people had in regards to the change in attitudes of people in their services, have people seen more experiences of stigma coming through their services or …
LM I think to some degree - I am not sure if I would use the word ‘stigma’, but I would say that there is less tolerance, perhaps … and that’s not to say there is more intolerance, but that kind of manifests itself into an acceptance of ‘you are on sanctions, there is no money for you, go to the food bank’.
JB I think it is all self-esteem, isn’t it? People feel that is all they are worthy of, I am eating from the food bank now.
LM Yes, and it’s becomes just that’s it - “well there’s a food bank, so go to the food bank for your families survival this week”. And it’s very nonchalant, that that’s okay for you because of the circumstances that you are in - there is no shock to that or no … so there is a change in the kind of register I suppose of what’s okay. Yes, so it does feed into that same picture, but it’s just looked on as “well that’s what you’re worth - and there is a food bank there, so go in and take that, that service. Don’t be upset about that, don’t feel anything about that because it’s there, so use it”. And some people are having to walk .. actually walk massive distances to get, because they have their children with them - they have absolutely nothing. And the answer is “well there is a food bank”, or “there’s a day service that you can attend”.
IK The DWP recognise that certain groups of people and individuals will struggle to access these benefits. They will struggle with the way they are administered, the way the application is taken. The people are so far removed from managing their account online that they will need to provide different supports. Again, that is likely to be provided not within DWP, it’s probably by local authority and other funded providers. But I think the people who depend on these benefits will not even recognise themselves in the way that they are being talked about in terms of being “digitally excluded”, “financially excluded”, “financially incapable”, and so on - and I think that’s quite a concern.
FM So the language that we talk about service delivery does not always connect with people on the ground.
LS Just going back to the point just about peoples perceptions - the scroungers, and the terminology - I think it depends on what label you could be given - if you had been given a label of a learning disability, then you don’t have a problem - you came to be viewed differently. Some of the folk that we work for are classed as having a learning disability - the stigma tends still to be the poor wee disabled person who can’t do, rather than having much higher aspirations that people actually can do, can effectively contribute to work in some way, shape or form. So I think it kind of depends on the label you have been given and the kind of discrimination, I suppose, that comes attached with that to be honest.
LM Yes, that kind of acceptance of destitution was the point that I was trying to make - it wouldn’t be as readily accepted for someone with a learning disability, a mental health problem or an older person - but homelessness and addictions, it’s like “of course you are destitute, because that goes hand in hand with your circumstances”.
FM How do we challenge that as service delivery organisations, challenge as service providers, challenge the attitudes that we are seeing coming out through the media and the wider public?
BL It’s a number of things, I mean at sort of large level and kind of ground floor level as well I suppose really. But I think it’s about defending the fundamental group or concept of actually a welfare society and a society based upon sort of supporting people who are in difficulty or less fortunate - and I think that is part of the challenge. I mean I think back to - I used to work as a social worker within Strathclyde Region and then Glasgow City Council - and the Anti-Poverty strategy that we used to have in place was actually a kind of thorough going policy, very effective policy, to a large degree focusing issues with community development, income maximisation, collective action, those kind of approaches - and a lot of that has disappeared unfortunately, and I think it’s about how we try and rekindle that kind of attitude and approach.
JB I think it’s about recognising as well, it’s not only the vulnerable groups that are affected by welfare reforms - many, many people who are in work and many people who are providing support to the vulnerable people are getting welfare benefits that are being cut, and they are in houses with 2 bedrooms where they are going to have less of an income and no pay rise. It is looking at allowing employers to give people a low wage that is backed by the government giving them extra tax credits. We need to look at actually paying a living wage to people.
CW These are long-term objectives that require campaigning, but at the same time, as services, we have to meet the needs of and the demands of people using those services. And the days where we had anti-poverty strategies worked at the time to meet that need within the context and structures that we had, and we need to kind of build that connectivity and not silo people - because we have got into a situation where we silo people as ‘having a mental health problem’, ‘having an alcohol problem’ - but what we are in danger of doing by not meeting that need is that we move a problem into another area. Someone who is struggling at the moment and not using services - if we don’t meet that need they are going to enter a service somewhere, whether that’s a mental health service, whether that’s a homelessness service - so we need to look at how we meet those needs as they present themself now.
AM Barry touched on that as well - in East Ayrshire we developed an action inclusion strategy which is effectively an anti-poverty strategy and it does recognise that although the focus is on financial inclusion, if we don’t get the money (… unclear), if we don’t get people’s living circumstances improved, then there will be extra pressure on social work services and housing services and other services within the Council. The difficulty with the Council is in terms of how we actually respond to the demands of welfare reform - and Isobel has talked about costs in terms of the economy, and especially talking to a researcher from Sheffield Hallam University, and quite surprised Scotland is actually between £20m-£50m coming out of the local economy - that is out of people’s pockets. As a council, how do we tackle that? That is a strategy very much about mitigating the effects for the individual, and also at the same time, trying to roll out that bigger strategic picture which kind of sets (… unclear) political whim, and certainly our elected members are very engaged, but not all in the political process.
FM So how do we respond to all these changing demands? What changes have people seen across the services, across the local authority areas? What changes have you brought into place? How far reaching have they been? Are they enough?
JB No, I think we need to prepare a bit better - I think we need to have a bit more interagency working so that we are taking holistic views of everybody that comes into our services. If we can’t help them with whatever their needs are, we should have a sign-posting network so we can get them whatever it is they need. And we should be able to work more, sharing information with each other, so that we are delivering … not all doing the same things, but delivering what we are good at and sign-posting them to the other people who are good at doing what they do - so people get holistic help from whoever they need it from and they are not all … because a lot of people are doing wee bits and pieces of different things, and they are standing on each other’s toes, and we can’t afford that any more. We need to get better at being the master of your trade and being the jack of sign-posting.
LM And the reality, right now, in services is that rather than being engaged in working with someone on their wellbeing, you are spending much, much more time working on making sure that that person has got some income, or at least part of what they are entitled to - and from a competency based workforce point of view, that is really challenging. Councils have done a lot of work in awareness raising of what the changes are in welfare reform and what the implications are, but in actually skilling up that workforce for providers … I think Councils themselves to actually respond, because we are the first line, you know, and we need to be able to do that effectively. There isn’t really quite as much investment going into actually skilling up, in reality, who the members of staff are, who will actually do that work with that service user. We are putting a lot of reliance on effectively unskilled staff to support service users to complete online applications, etc. I mean we would never have done that.
BL … signposting for those very reasons - signposting is … it sounds an easy solution, and if we take the application process for benefits and the money advice situation as it currently stands, we can signpost to a money advice project. I know money advice projects in Glasgow where there is a 4-weekly waiting list for an appointment, and funding for money advice across Scotland is under severe pressure with the extra demand. Is it a good use of a money advice project to spend 2 hours putting the Disability Living Allowance form together for a person that you do not know? Whereas the best way of dealing with that is working with those projects, working on a relationship with those projects of how support workers can work with that system - support workers know the individual - with the proper skilling and training they can then put the application together … which in reality is happening anyway.
JB I think what Lorraine said is exactly what I meant - support workers can have basic skills to help people with their online applications for basic benefits, but many, many people have complex needs, and they are not equipped to do that. They have specialist interventions that are required to help them get the best, and that is where I would signpost. I think most support workers do provide basic help and they provide budgeting skills, but there are a lot of people that need other interventions, and that is who would be signposted on. But it’s the cost of the investment of training people in all these things - Lorraine is right - who is going to pay for that?
LM And it’s the knock-on impact of the fact that we are spending so much time on income maximisation, which we may not be quite as skilled at as we would like to be, that there are other areas of support being neglected, effectively - and those areas of support are increasing for those individuals because of the stress and anxiety of the income maximisation process.
FM So services are changing, to an extent, in terms of direction, in terms of what certain support they can provide to try and compensate for areas which we know are under increased pressure.
CW We need to actually invest in an advice service - both in-house and with our (… unclear) advice, and trying to get it all joined up so we can (… unclear) of it does. The cost of that is that it’s impacting on other services within the Council who are trying to take £3m or £4m out the budget over the next 3 years, so protect their investing in advice and information and it’s impacting on mainstream services, and that is where the disconnect comes in. As Isobel mentioned before, it’s a kind of cost jumping thing, EWP, what (…unclear).
LM There is that and I will give recognition of where the reality lies in that and the point that Chris makes about a lot of the service users that the organisers use in this room and work directly with is about trust and confidence. You know the sense of (unclear) waiting list, and grey, but that person wouldn’t be able to engage with that productively and effectively is the unrealistic bit.
BL It’s such a complex area, I mean specialist knowledge about welfare rights and welfare benefits, it’s an incredibly detailed area … and I think part of the problem is there has been a reduction in that specialism over a good number of years now and I appreciate that’s … advice responsibility, (unclear …) Citizens Advice and such like, and an expectation if that’s going to work will be carried out. And I know, particularly within social work education, the focus on welfare rights education has diminished and I was discussing that this morning about how we can try and redress that balance to some degree, because I think people say “that’s not my job anymore, I will pass it onto someone else who can deal with that, but I am not sure these people actually always fully exist and then are all the workers sort of fully aware of it and encouraging people to appeal, for example, do they feel confidence … actually getting onto appeals and such like, I mean these are kind of things which social workers used to do quite regularly, but do much, much, much less these days, if … depending on their content, so I think there is a big issue behind educational training, which we do need to look at because it’s frontline workers who are going to be, at the end of the day, sort of in contact with people.
LM It’s a massive responsibility to put on a fairly low paid worker themselves, massive responsibility to take that on, if that person is doing the best they can with the skills and knowledge that they have … but if they make a very simple error in that, the implications for the individual is massive.
IK Something positive might come out of the fact that although people may be a bit (unclear …) just now, I mean most authorities are recognising this at strategic level, welfare reform figures and we’ve all had our policies and plans and I think that’s (unclear …) could through your service and team plans, so I think although I agree that it’s not early days for this social security changes, that (unclear …) the point where they’re having an impact, and so we may be just a wee bit behind in terms of responding to that positively, using all the resources as best we can. But I think local authorities and national organisations, and in Scotland at national level, there is a real recognition that welfare reform is having a huge impact and it’s a great risk to being able to deliver the services that we want, and that there is a bit of an impetus there for people to get to the other two positively or to make sure that they share the load that … whether it’s because they have a statutory duty and of course advice is not a statutory duty in social services or anywhere else, or a moral obligation to support …
LM I was just going to say, just because we have … thinking of a more positive point … one part of the system that does seem to be working better, for the people that we work is the change from the Community Care Grants to the Scottish Welfare Fund and it’s faster and more effective in our experience and more people, from those who are actually securing tenancies, then that’s happening more effectively, or we are seeing better decisions made throughout the Scottish Welfare Fund than we ever seen in recent years in the Community Care Grant process.
CW That’s interesting if you look at the stats of the take up of the Scottish Welfare fund, because the stats of the take up of the Scottish Welfare Fund do not reflect that and the last stats that I saw, it was only 40, 50% take up and that was a significant improvement in what it … 2 or 3 months back.
JB I would say I think the initial thing is when they phone up and ask for it, they are told no, it’s persistence if they phone again and apply … I think there’s a lot of people initially put off, but once your claim actually goes through, you do get a fairly speedy result and they usually just give you exactly what you are looking, your basic furniture to move in, so that’s …
CW I suspect that’s a Glasgow thing, because if you look at the take up here in Glasgow, it is extremely low.
IK It’s not, there are people around in local authorities who had a different view of that and can feed in the approach that has been taken needs to change
BL I think the relevance … I think (unclear …) the fact you have got varied approaches across Scotland, discretionary approaches, so actually from that perspective that what was previously, what was false, you know sort of unified statutory service is you want to call it that is their localised discretionary service, I think that’s problematic and it’s like you know, what’s the baseline there?
AM I think initially people are cautious … I think they are cautious in terms of how they are going to manage that, whether (unclear …). I think certainly across, from all accounts, is they can achieve the threshold … bearing in mind the stats …
CW And the other thing that you need to be careful of here as well, and early on we talked about bedroom tax, now the Scottish Government have just allocated another £80m, £20m to the discretionary housing fund. Now £20m wasn’t sat there, that £20 wasn’t just kind of sat in a bank account collecting dust, it’s gone into the bedroom tax. We are all going to lose £20m somewhere else in looking at how we provide services. Every time when we ask for something, we also have to think about what we are losing.
FM So is there any other examples of good practice in terms of information being shared or how they’re developing services to respond to the issues around welfare reform?
IK I think there has been a far greater response in terms of information, publication, presentations, you know so they are wanting us to talk about things that any other previous health and social security issues, (unclear …)
LM It is from an awareness point of view, I think people are aware on what the changes are, but that’s not necessarily … that’s knowledge, that’s not competence, and that’s 2 different things from the workplace.
IK So I think it is … I have worked (unclear …) that people are actually sharing information and the message is getting across quite a wide range of services and anti service users, sometimes on an individual door to door, if you visit people who are getting information …
CW I recently worked with one organisation who asked their staff how much time they were spending on benefits issues and when they added up the amount of hours they were spending on benefits issues across their workforce, not a huge workforce, they were talking about 2 posts a week time wise, with very little skilling of that staff. Following that, 2 things that they did, was firstly buying in some training for staff, so the staff were aware of how to complete this with you, staff know an incredible amount of information about a person that (unclear) … I have worked in frontline money advice and I’ve delivered money advice from a specialist provider point of view as well, kind of different information you have, so that staff were able to complete assessment forms competently, it took, following the training, it took significantly less time than it did before and improved the competency levels, and the organisation also developed a working partnership a local money advice project so that they continued to top up that training and that they were … where someone needed advice and where someone needed representation, that was then, that arrangement was there…(unclear).
FM Any other examples of how people are trying to upskill their staff within their services, so what mechanisms would it take for them to do that?
LS … have accurate information, so meeting with all their employees and achieving … different achievements and build from their … a good impact on who they work for and timescales and things like that … I mean this could be proven (unclear …) and the end can single the people the bit where we are kind of working with just now, sharing is working with families as well and other carers involved, because again for us, there’s a lot of lack of information or people not understanding just how much that might impact on them personally, so a lot of it’s around about that. We’ve also kind of looked at our employees, for example, and kind of made (unclear …) you can ask them to come in and speak with your employees about the benefits of being involved in (unclear …) and just trying to … you know, welfare reform is going to hit everybody in one way, shape or form, so we can try to look at it from all angles through (unclear …) work for, but it’s probably lacking, it’s just the training aspect.
BL I think the training is the key thing, it’s one of the issues, because again just thinking back, I mean in (… unclear) used to have stocks of CPA handbooks, people used to refer to them, youth workers would actually engage with it, you know social workers, and I would be interested in carrying out a survey on how many CPA handbooks there are now in social work offices around the country, I suspect unfortunately much less, and I think it’s … and I think people are aware of it but it’s, I think lacking in specialist knowledge in what you do, I mean … and I think there’s quite a lot of things people can do both individually … I mean there is for example, there is a very useful set of practice notes that I saw from Social Work Action Network, which was, I think the social work was the frontline and I found lots of links to guides and self help guides for responses to various forms of benefits, I think that kind of electronic response actually is really good. And also there’s also links to some of the collective campaigns which I think are important as well, that were directing people towards disabled people in the likes of cuts for example, in which case, but also some focus of Scotland, the triangle campaign, I mean there are campaign groups there which I think are important and the evidence would seem to be that unless people are actually given the proper advice and are claiming and appealing and such, that they are actually, you know, they won’t and I mean I think they might be going to take out the Scottish economy according to CPA, it was between £1 ½ and £2 billion which is just an astonishing amount of money which is going to be removed. A big proportion of Glasgow … so I think the training aspect, I mean it’s an expensive issue but I think we have to find ways to actually get personal …
IK I think it’s the the type of thing that the local authorities and national organisations and Scottish government might respond to with their own workers and providers with even that demand, because we are in a climate where… you can, you know express your views on how this is impacting on people that you work with.
LM Yes, for me there’s 2 quite fundamental resource implications that we are trying to address that, from a competence point of view, is one step back from actually competence with specialism around welfare benefit issues, it’s actually digital literacy in the staff group and their ability to actually navigate that process with a service user. We have incredibly skilled support workers who are really good at their job, but their digital literacy isn’t there and there’s an expectation, and that’s the only expectation that there is, so we do work around skilling people up just from the point of view of their ability to support service users with online applications, and again just the practicality issue about where are all these computers that people have got to use to…to get easy access to and this internet access that is just so widely available everywhere for service users to just sit around a …
CW Using your library computer…how secure is that in holding personal data, it’s extremely vulnerable.
LM And as the frontline, you know, in emergency accommodation and direct access, we are the point of contact, a lot of our funding is dependent upon that online application as well, because that forms part of our income so we have to get that right, but in order to resource that, obviously the provision of IT equipment and secure WIFI access with a load of filters and everything that need to be … it costs a huge amount of money. That’s not built into the costing structures that services are built upon at the moment. We found (unclear …), we have managed to persuade a large construction company to donate quite a number of laptop computers to us and we have reconfigured them to enable us to have that resource right there and then for service users, so you could sit in somebody’s room, they are not having to come and sit at a desk, you can sit in their room and take your time in a quiet, private space.
FM Are there any other examples of how services are going to deal with this, the digital issue?
IK I understand that there is a local support service (unclear …) who did a (unclear …) work with partners, whether it be Credit Unions or Local Authorities or Voluntary Sector, to support people to be able to claim online, manage accounts online.
CW The service provider that we don’t have present, which has massive implications all around as far as budgets, is (unclear), and there are serious issues that … because if as servicers we do not meet the need, then the default position is that health will have to pick up, well pick up the problem, but there are issues within the health sector as well, I mean I worked in an acute admissions ward where someone has had a mental health crisis because of a finance situation they have been in … an acute ward for 3 or 4 weeks, it’s apparent that that person is not going to go back into that situation and at the point of discharge you then have the conversation of what are you going to do with this person, that’s fine, we will just put them to homeless service. We knew that situation was there 3 or 4 weeks before that, but at the point of discharge we go in there, so we have kind of got to manage how we use that health resource without it impacting on other services around. The other health issue, going back to legal services, is evidence from GP’s. Evidence from GP’s, it used to be that the DWP would write to a GP asking for a GP report, now the NHS contract says that if the DWP request a medical report from GP’s, GP’s have to provide it as part of their NHS contract. However, DWP no longer ask for GP reports and if a client asked for a report from their GP, they are likely to be charged. The only other solution is to go through an advice project who would have used legal aid money to get that report, however we have seen the legal aid budget drastically reduced as well which then leaves this hole of how you get good quality medical evidence to oppose the kind of work capability assessment medical evidence that’s there.
FM So that’s another key issue, that service providers are having to deal with … Can I ask a question about the impact … we have talked a lot about staff capability and stuff, but what about staff wellbeing, because we are very clear about what the impacts are on service users, but what about the staff supporting them, what steps are services taking to try and assist them or look after their wellbeing in regards to the changes?
LM I think it comes back to supporting them with, being very clear about where their boundaries lie and also making sure that people are being talked to about what their skill and competence needs are and responding to that, and that we are not making assumptions about peoples abilities to take on this whole other world of activity that they weren’t originally employed to be competent in.
LS We have (unclear ) information but it’s information around, ’this is what’s coming’, but we have made it really, really clear that we are not expecting you to pick up on all of this and manage and deal with this, here is where, you know we will offer advice and support and this is where you will be … you know suggesting maybe the social workers or … you know all the different systems, advice bureaus and things like that, so we are making it really clear to staff that we are not expecting them to take this on the back and try and feel we can manage this on top of everything else.
LM But emotionally and psychologically it’s hugely demanding when someone is faced with someone in total destitution and they are powerless. They feel it’s their job to be able to respond, but they are powerless to respond other than give them the address of a local food bank or the shelter or whatever that thing is that they need.
IK It’s hard to support also advice staff who are traditionally very good at mixing things … when you are working in an environment (unclear) just people have come through recession, credit crunch, well there was the credit crunch followed by a recession, the economic downturn and this welfare reform, it’s a whole lot of things to keep up with, it’s very difficult, and we have actually only increased the new debt situations, people threatened with the loss of their home, there is no solution available for them, there is no benefit to claim, we are almost trying to maintain peoples income, the days of income maximisation, grant schemes which you got, and it was quite (unclear…)
CW I haven’t delivered frontline advice but, or I haven’t delivered advice as a service provider for 3 years, I haven’t delivered mainstream citizen’s advice, money advice type … walk in service for ten years, I have worked within a specialist mental health service … I would not walk back in to working in money advice these days because the last time that I worked in frontline money advice, you dealt with benefit issues, generally sortable, you didn’t have anywhere near the level of debt problems to deal with, where you did have a debt problem within isolation of everything and if you now have this incredibly complex pitch when someone comes through the door seeking advice that often doesn’t have a simple solution and that’s incredibly stressful for staff to work in and traditionally advice workers wanted to sort the problem, generally they did sort the problem and had a high level of satisfaction. That’s increasingly difficult for advice workers to do.
LS I was just going to say, I think the conversation that would historically be, we did hand you over the problems with easy fixes between your duty and care to someone, it’s someone’s choice to spend their money in a way that might not be wise, just now folk aren’t really getting that choice to spend their money around that’s not wise, because they simply just don’t have the funds to do that in lots of ways, so it’s even more difficult for the employees that are working with that person, so those conversations that were far more kind of clear cut with the employees aren’t just as clear cut any more, they are far more grey and employees do take a lot of it on board because they feel that they should be able to fit or they should be able to provide the support to that person that maybe they need to do … and there’s an awful lot of that involved, it’s an awful lot of why people get into that line of work the first place. When I was at (unclear) we kind of had employee counselling and we would, I can’t believe it’s got to that stage but it is really difficult for people (unclear …) counselling where you can get some sort of additional support for anyone in that situation, because there’s a lot of it that you just can’t fix any more.
JB I think it’s very difficult for the staff, I don’t provide frontline support either but one of the things that’s hugely increased within our services, people selling everything they have got to these cash converters and going for the payday loans and they are absolutely destitute, they sell their clothes, it’s horrific and to be there supporting somebody who has got no clothes, no food, no money or worse … They then are engaging in other activities…
LM Yes, other activities in order to have something.
JB And we are definitely seeing a lot more of that.
BL I think there’s an onus on agencies, employment agencies, I think providing support and supervision to staff, I think that’s something we used to talk a lot about with our students about supervision being a kind of essential kind of … and I think people do need that kind of support to be able to manage the situations that they are dealing with, I think that is often not used because of pressures on services and generally the time to actually provide the quality support and supervision that’s required, but I think it is something that we should not lose sight of just because it’s difficult and I think … we have also talked to students about sort of collective responses in that, sort of the role of Trade Unions for example and how they can provide a role in that for their employees but also in terms of mounting campaigns which can actually be quite effective … linking up sort of approaches to community responses and campaigns and such like with individual responses, but I think that does put more pressure onto people, there’s no doubt but it’s got to work, certainly it’s challenging, but it’s how they have got it (unclear) in the systems of consequence and that. And it does I think come back to 2 things, education and training in the one hand and that being available and support and supervision on the other.
AM (unclear) social service (unclear) I think certainly within … I worked (unclear) pulled together a financial (unclear) service from being disparate teams, from being in different (unclear) from pulling together the professional social work support roles, the kind of specialist network support they need as well in terms of (unclear)
FM Are there any other structures and mechanisms that need to be looked at or set up to share practise and learning, you know you have talked there about the need for more information and training, how can we set up systems that support that or what systems need to be in place to help?
CW We need to look at the funding structure … in the past where I have had access to support service, I want a good quality support service that can meet my support needs, to issues that we face, is one, and it’s generally a well paid sector looking at the third sector providers, and secondly the kind of funding structures for sector providers have really been cut back so that we have been, you know, we talk about the need for training, actually within the funding structures for third sector providers, there isn’t the flexibility to fully train and support staff. If we are saying that there is a distinct training with that, then that has to be addressed within commissioning.
LM I think the idea of something online resource is no good, those guides don’t seem to exist at the moment, so that might be something that’s … you know reference points, people can pick up and look at, as and when they need it, for that particular part to support somebody with. People are going to draw confidence from that and there will be a building picture of competence as a result. The point Chris makes is very valid, we look at housing support contracts where you have gone somewhere in the region of 21 hours in a full year for a member of staff to be at (unclear) or you can have background costs, and that’s all that’s allocated within that full time worker for the contract, so it’s constantly a struggling act between responding to need and delivering your contract as well in order to maintain capacity.
JB I think one of the things Barbara talked about, about campaigning … I think as individuals and as organisations involved in care, we have all got an application to campaign against things that are hard and are just unfair and unworkable. And I know at a higher level it can have conflicting things in your organisation but it shouldn’t be seen as something that’s wrong to campaign on behalf of the people that we are delivering services for. I think organisations need to get fully behind some of the campaigns without fear of, you know, a label against the organisation for being campaigning.
BL Local authorities have set up anti poverty strategies again which is good, I mean Glasgow have just introduced one fairly recently, which is obviously good, but I think at the same time I mean I think there needs to be local forums and local campaigns of people involved in the linked international campaigns, linked campaigning groups, Poverty Alliance and such like, I mean I think there’s lots of different avenues there but it’s about probably how good people link up those issues.
IK … demands of DWP who are responsible for delivering this welfare reform, I mean I think they have a responsibility to provide information, so I think it’s … we are working … the people who are facing sanctions, there are a lot of people who are destitute, increase in numbers, huge increase in numbers of people who are destitute and yet to do that without knowing what the levels of sanction are in Glasgow, (unclear) if you don’t know what the impact is, well only the DWP can tell us if any sanctions have been made, how many have been changed, how many have been appealed against, how many have been successful. There’s a big migration of people from one benefit to another that’s been going on for years and due to finish I think in, well the target date was 2014, but (unclear) there’s been a massive amount of work required around that for advice services and support providers. We don’t know where they are with that, we don’t know if it’s 100% complete, 70% complete in my area, in your area … how can we respond to, how can we even think about creating campaigns when we don’t have the right information to tell them “that’s an issue, that’s a big issue here, or it’s not such a big issue in Glasgow”.
BL These are issues which local authorities could pick up with the DWP to make those demands, I would imagine, because I mean the information might not be immediately available, I am not sure if it has …
IK It’s not available to local authorities at local authority level
BL Within that, we need to work with local authorities, universities on building our evidence base. “What happens to the person who has been, had a 6 months sanction?” Okay, we have saved 6 months of benefit, but actually what are the costs relating to that 6 month sanction? Where do you report that? And that’s somewhere where we can reach, we have very, very good universities that have census, population studies work really, really well with social statistics and we have the links of organisations of, we know what happens to someone when they are sanctioned, they (unclear) hospital and so we can start allocating how much that very, very small saving that a benefit actually costs our economy.
LS I think it’s strange in a lot of ways, these organisations would be accountable for a lot of things, a lot of the decisions that you make, if you make a bad decision you are accountable for that decision, there’s ramifications for your actions and there’s a lot of things that are happening to people, there doesn’t seem to be anybody that’s accountable for the decision in house.
IK Because the person who was accountable for saving you money has achieved that, they are not responsible for (unclear) needs, they are not responsible for the house policy, they can’t, they aren’t …
LM If you look at the health agenda for Scotland, if you look at … take social care agenda for Scotland and the housing agenda for Scotland, you know the economic activity agenda for Scotland in terms of employability, they all talk to each other, the one thing that conflicts with that is welfare reform, because if you take the integration of that, that will come under social care and the agenda for older people to keep them in their own home. Welfare reform, actually directly conflicts with that and it’s more likely to cause an older person to lose their home than health and social care needs.
BL I think there’s a collective responsibility of local government but also (unclear) issues, even though welfare benefits are a reserved matter, I think there’s probably more I suspect that the Scottish government could be doing I think in actually raising the issues and actually challenging the position, because aggregated information that is there and making them see things even more forcibly, because the impact, you know, you are right, it goes across massive swathes of the population …
BL And those impacts are the old matters … social care, (unclear)
BL … absolutely, this is happening in our services, this is what it’s doing, this is what it’s doing, I think there needs to be a greater volume, sort of cry about that. There’s almost this kind of assumption that it’s there but we can maybe, well maybe we can worse the effects of it, yes okay, I think we possibly can do things like that but I think there’s also a bigger picture here about how we challenge it.
LM I think there’s a couple of other (unclear) consequences that might actually be very good, I think in terms of homelessness, although people who find themselves homeless are facing that kind of destitution, that kind of acceptance of destitution that I mentioned earlier on one hand, on the other hand there’s a greater understanding of just how easy it is, not just because of the welfare reform but because of the economic downturn that people feel closer to that agenda and therefore the (unclear) in terms of people being seen as the stereotypical TV image of a homeless person, it’s moved on a little bit, people get much closer to it. Because we are so close to the edge ourselves …
IK With family and friends, with our neighbours, with other communities
LM Being faced with that, and the other side of it is that that same old adage of ‘out of necessity comes inventions’ and there are looking at different ways of responding to the reality that people are finding themselves in right now, and I know, certainly within the homelessness field, there is lots of really creative stuff coming out of the reality that we are dealing with. We are doing some work around exploring the concept of people who have spare rooms and whether or not, you know people who have spare rooms and subject to the bedroom tax, so they are benefit dependent, can we form a relationship between them and a single homeless person to support each other, to reduce their risk of homelessness? It’s not something we had ever looked at before …
FM So some of the challenges there is obviously the innovations …
LM … and there’s lots of other organisations across the UK looking at similar, taking a similar approach to say well there’s a reality today, but we will support, we will be the agenda for change to eliminate some of these challenges but there is a reality to deal with right now, people are being affected by it now, what can we do, so it is driving us to look at things differently, and I think that’s got to be a good thing, it’s not coming from a good source but it will create more opportunities for people with difficulties.
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