I’m on a mission to make a difference …

I’m on a mission to make a difference …

As a proud non-exec Director of social enterprise Society Matters cic I’m on a mission to make a difference. Alongside my talented co-Directors, our wonderful staff team and our parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead, we have a vision of a fair society for all, with lives well lived.

So what does that mean? To me, that means we are determined to help people in need to achieve their potential in life, to help families living in poverty, with disadvantage and deprivation, to become more self-reliant, resilient and move towards a lifestyle that is stable and secure. 

You might say – “well good luck with that” – and yes, it is a huge job. 

And it is one that is becoming more challenging daily while Covid takes its toll and employment – life itself – is ever more precarious.  Even people who are in employment are struggling to make ends meet and dealing with insecure jobs.

So, to achieve our ambition we have looked really closely at the part Society Matters cic can play – how our small but perfectly formed team can help to support people on a journey that leads to them ultimately supporting themselves.

Mobilising lived experience and specialist knowledge into the system

Proper support for people in need is crucial to enable them to emerge from poverty and avoid the traps that come along with it that often have long term impacts.  Debt, health problems, fuel poverty, housing and the knock-on impacts on education and social isolation are only a few examples of issues that that put people in crisis situations that are difficult to get out of.  

The Social Welfare system is there to provide such support but its complexities mean that people do not always get their entitlement and in many cases do not even realise they are eligible for benefits.  Accessing support can be difficult and not for the faint-hearted.  Not the best situation when you’re worried where the next meal is coming from or where you can get the bus fare to work.

So to help people access the support they need our approach is to mobilise the knowledge that resides in the advisers who deal with the complications of the system on a daily basis. The value of those experts, whose knowledge is second to none, and who have made a tangible difference to people’s lives, can’t be over-estimated.  So those advisers have invested their lived experience and specialist knowledge into the design, development and delivery of cutting edge training which is now delivered in a virtual classroom by Society Matters cic.

This is not training you can get from a book or a website. It’s coming at social welfare problems from the people perspective – not just relaying policy and practice. If you are one of the hundreds of people who have received this training, you’ll have the tools in your toolkit to really help people to navigate the social welfare and benefits system, and to get the best possible outcome for them and their families through your work.

We need more people to be able to help more people 

Like I said, this is a big job. So we’re on a mission to spread this acute, front-end knowledge far and wide.

On the ground, that means more people accessing the benefits they so desperately need, more people avoiding crisis points, more people moving out of poverty, more people taking the step from benefits to employment – more people reaching their potential. More people living their lives as well as they can. Isn’t that what we, as a society, should expect for everyone?

And of course, through the pandemic the public have grown a heightened awareness of the close connection between society and the economy. Through engendering more people with spending power the local economy gains, so we all gain. Did you know that in Gateshead alone in 2019-2020 the advice and information given to people by our parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead  gained £7.8m additional income, most of which will have been spent locally – mind blowing!

Just think what could be done across our region with a bit more know-how.

Knowledge is power – Society Matters is mobilising knowledge through its training so the Social Welfare system provides the means to progress for people who need and want to battle successfully against poverty. And it’s already working.  Front line staff we’ve trained are picking up on potential problems with their users at early stages and averting crises like eviction and arrears, and people are being able to work through their disabilities because they have the right support to do so, because they’ve been helped in the right way to get what they needed.  Critically, through mobilising knowledge the trained support staff feel confident and empowered in their work, and the service users relieved – what’s not to like in such a great result. 

This is real social value.

Call for Community and Voluntary sector to complete short skills survey

Call for Community and Voluntary sector to complete short skills survey

Social enterprise Society Matters cic is looking into skills gaps that are challenging the community and voluntary sector. particularly with respect to understanding the complexities of welfare benefits such as Universal Credit and PIP, and is calling for as many people across the sector to complete the survey, for a chance to win a free welfare benefits training course for up to 12 people early in 2021.

The team at Society Matters needs to understand the gaps that exist because they are looking for ways to support the sector at a time when investing in training is not currently on the agenda, for obvious reasons. Hundreds of paid staff and volunteers from the sector who have attended Society Matters’ social welfare training have said that without the right skills and knowledge they had found it difficult to provide the right help to the communities they support, and that once they understood the detail of the benefits being claimed by many of their clients they had so much more confidence, just after a few hours spent on learning and development.

Lee Booth, Trading Manager at Society Matters cic, who’s leading the survey explained “this year has been challenging for us all, but the community and voluntary sector has stepped up to make such a difference to so many people’s lives, and we send our sincere thanks. Through completing this survey the community and voluntary sector can help us to design programmes that can be delivered free to those who need it most, but don’t have the resources to pay.”

So please complete the short 2 minute survey to help Society Matters to understand the skills gaps you are experiencing in your organisation, and have a chance to win a free accredited welfare benefits training course of your choice for up to 12 staff and volunteers to give you a great start to 2021.

CLICK HERE TO START THE SURVEY

PIP Claims and how to get the basics right

PIP Claims and how to get the basics right

PIP Claims and how to get the basics right

Welfare benefits claims are far from easy to navigate and people often have complex needs which can prove to be barriers to their benefit applications. The stakes are heightened with Personal Independence Payment claims, and the complexity of the application process can stand in the way of a successful claim for people who are really in need of the support.

That’s why, through our training, we share acute front-end experience of how to successfully support people through the claims process for PIP. But to get you started, our Social Welfare Instructor Adam has prepared some pointers that will make sure you get the basics right.  

What is PIP?

Personal Independence Payment (known as PIP), is a benefit designed to help people with the additional costs involved in having a long term health condition or being disabled and isn’t means tested. That means that anyone can apply for PIP, regardless of their income or savings. The benefit replaced Disability Living Allowance in the UK. 

There are eligibility criteria that need to be fulfilled before claiming for PIP, including age and how the condition affects the potential claimant, so check these before getting started. You can find out more here https://www.gov.uk/pip

Collect medical evidence before starting the claim

Once you get started with a PIP claim the process is time limited, so it’s a really good idea to encourage your client to invest some time in collecting as much medical evidence as possible to support the application.

Prospective claimants should contact their GP and any medical professionals that have been working with them in the last 12 months and let them know they are applying for PIP. You will find that most professionals are really empathetic and will write a supporting letter to accompany a claim.

Remember PIP is designed to respond to how someone’s condition affects them, so the more medical evidence they get the better.

Help with form filling

The PIP application form is 33 pages long and can be quite daunting, so it’s always a good idea for a claimant to get help from someone with experience of successfully completing PIP forms.

After your client has made their initial claim over the phone with the DWP, a PIP form should be sent out within 14 days, then they will have a month to fill in the form (if they need longer, for example because they need help to fill in the form, if they let the DWP know in good time they may be granted an extension).

Stick to the descriptors

We can’t stress enough how important it is for a claimant to stick to the descriptors, and cross reference their mobility and daily living needs to score as many legitimate points as possible. In our Get to Grips with PIP training we really get into the detail of each of the twelve descriptors but you can also get a basic understanding of each of the PIP descriptors in this short video series.

Be prepared for the assessment

The assessment is an important part of the claims process so preparation is key. It is well worth seeing if a home visit is feasible if the claimant is not well enough to attend an external venue (they may need medical evidence to prove this). Whether it’s at home or at an assessment centre, it is always worth the claimant being accompanied to the assessment for support.

It’s also a really good idea for the claimant to keep a diary of how their condition affects them for a few weeks before the assessment date, so they can properly explain this to the assessor, to make sure they don’t forget anything if they feel a bit nervous. 

Don’t give up

If the PIP claim is unsuccessful first time round don’t give up.  In the event of a successful claim it’s definitely best to get help from organisations such as Citizens Advice to handle a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ and appeal if it gets to this stage. It may also be worth getting further medical evidence to back up the claim.

The Tribunals Service statistics show that claimants are winning PIP appeals at the highest rate ever recorded. Overall, an extraordinary 73% of social security appeals are successful, with the claimant getting a better award than they originally received from the DWP. Our parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead recently reported a 93% success rate when it comes to appeals.

 

If you would like to learn more about PIP claims check out our series of short videos here, and if you’d like to learn more about how to help your own clients to improve their chances of a making a successful PIP claim please get in touch today to talk through how we can help.

 

Accredited Learning Centre status for Gateshead social enterprise

Accredited Learning Centre status for Gateshead social enterprise

Society Matters CIC is proud to have been approved as an Accredited Learning Centre by national accrediting body ncfe.

Executive Director Jayne Graham MBE is excited about the opportunity to deliver accredited training, as this will make a huge difference to the people the social enterprise supports.

“Many of the people we support are looking for their next steps towards employment, so being able to provide a certificate or award that verifies what they have learnt on our programmes makes a huge difference. Qualifications not only demonstrate to an employer that the individual has committed to the learning programme and worked hard to achieve their certificate; they also make a huge difference to people’s self esteem, making it much more likely that they will apply for a job in the first place, and improving their performance in interviews”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beth Ainslie, Project Coordinator

Beth Ainslie, Project Coordinator at Society Matters CIC, has been supporting people through their community learning programmes for the past 12 months, and has first hand experience of the impact of being able to hand over a certificate. Beth explains

“People who honestly thought they had nothing to offer have been overwhelmed when we have been able to award them a Certificate of Completion at the end of their programme, which involves a wide range of learning opportunities, including work experience, classroom learning and mentoring.

Now being able to elevate this to a qualification will be even more transformational for the people we’re working with, most of whom are searching for where to go next in their lives.”

As well as becoming an accredited learning centre, Society Matters CIC has received independent quality endorsement from ncfe for its unique approach to social welfare training. Training courses provide support organisations with the knowledge they need to add even more value to their clients. You can find out about courses running across the UK here.

Society Matters CIC is a trading subsidiary of charity Citizens Advice Gateshead. The social enterprise, which is also registered as a community interest company, has the dual objective of adding social value whilst generating income to add to the resources of the charity to enable it to achieve its vision of a fair society for all with lives well lived.