Caring for children is one of the most fulfilling experiences an adult can have, and, of course, it wouldn’t be so rewarding if it wasn’t for the hurdles, the massive challenges that parents and carers encounter along the way. Let’s face it, being a carer is tough. Add to that the responsibilities associated with providing a happy, safe, stimulating and supportive family environment for a child or children challenged with physical disabilities, or SEND, behavioural or development difficulties. There’s no less love, no less joy, but in many cases there’s a lot more complexity to navigate, including challenges with communication, comprehension, vision, hearing and/or physical functioning.
A recent report highlighted that, on average, families with disabled children face extra costs of £581 a month, and for a quarter of families this rises to over £1,000. In many cases welfare benefits geared specifically to helping with the extra demands and special care needs of children are available, however these benefits are massively underclaimed. One such benefit is Disabled Living Allowance (DLA) for Children. Unlike DLA for adults which is being phased out and replaced by Personal Independence Payment (PIP), and Attendance Allowance for adults over pensionable age, the DLA benefit for children currently remains intact.
So why are families not getting access to DLA?
Sometimes not applying for DLA is just a decision that families make. That might be because of a reluctance to be seen ‘to be paid’ to look after their child or children – understandable, but the benefit is there to support with the extra costs of looking after a child under 16 who has difficulties walking, or who needs much more looking after than a child of the same age who does not have a disability, so that extra income can really help.
Families can understandably feel quite daunted with the prospect of the 38 page application for DLA for children for which existing guidance is complicated and limited, resulting in a decision not to apply. Those who do apply and fail, often because they haven’t had the support they need to express their circumstances in line with the DWP guidelines, will understandably then give up. However, an appeals process does exist and applicants should be encouraged to try again, with the right support, so we need to make sure they know where to turn for help.
First and foremost, does the family actually know that DLA is available to help them? Many unfortunately don’t. Our mission at Society Matters is to put that right, by building the knowledge of the support systems of the potential of DLA – and other welfare benefits – and to help raise awareness of how to successfully apply for the benefit, to reduce this problem.
We also know that some families assume that they won’t be entitled to the benefit as they think their current income, savings or capital would preclude them from doing so. In fact DLA for Children is not a means-tested benefit so these factors aren’t taken into account, providing a level playing field for all families when applying for the benefit.
Some parents and carers also believe that the benefit won’t apply to them as their child doesn’t have a physical disability, but in fact DLA also supports children with learning or SEND, behavioural or development difficulties. The key factor for meeting the DWP criteria for DLA for children is an ability to demonstrate that the child needs substantially more care, attention or supervision than other children of the same age who don’t have a disability or health condition.
Families also sometimes believe they need to wait until they have a final diagnosis to make an application, particularly with younger children who will struggle to express their needs and frustrations and how they are feeling. Although a diagnosis will help with evidencing the condition, some conditions can take extended periods to diagnose fully, so a claim can still be made in advance of this.
Often in the case of younger children awards can be at a lower level for the care and mobility elements that make up DLA, as more investigation is needed on their conditions by the professionals that are involved in the child’s development. When further evidence is available, supporting a claim that the child may be entitled to a higher rate, there can be a reticence from families to pursue an increased level of benefit in case this results in loss of the initial award altogether. Again this is understandable, but with the right support available to the family this risk is significantly lowered.
So why does the system need to support families to access DLA for children?
As well as the obvious financial benefits that come with benefit awards to meet the extra support needs of children, a successful DLA for children application can actually open doors to other benefits and vital support for families such as blue badges, carers allowance, a Motability car and exemption from the benefit cap. This needs to be understood by families before they make a choice not to make a claim.
The hard fact in a report published by Public Health England 2012 is that children and young people with a disability are more likely to live in poverty than those without a disability. Disabled children have, for a long time, had poor experiences using the welfare system. Difficulty in accessing benefits and delays in payments have often left disabled children financially insecure. So help is critical. A successful DLA for children application can make a huge difference for the family and the child, making sure their needs are met not just at this time but as they progress into adulthood.
You can make your mark
If you’re a professional that may be in a position to support families to understand their potential entitlement for DLA, and would love to be able to make your mark by helping them to make a successful application, we can help. Society Matters cic has designed a half day training workshop, ‘Get to Grips with DLA for children’. Find out more about the course here
14 local charities will benefit from Bellway Homes’ donation to the Society Matters’ Pay It Forward programme, paying for quality accredited welfare benefits training on 6th May for community and voluntary organisations in Newcastle and Gateshead.
Over 7 decades Bellway Homes has grown from a small, family-owned firm in Newcastle to one of the most successful house builders in the UK that now employs more than 2,000 people. Throughout its growth the company’s ethos has continued to be focused on supporting local communities, with each of its 22 divisions having a charity budget to support organisations and community groups in their local areas, as well as a charity committee that can donate funds to good causes that apply for assistance.
Stephen Weldon, the company’s Head of Sustainability, awarded the donation to Society Matters cic, explaining
“As a company founded in the North East of England, Bellway’s continues to support charities and groups delivering support to local communities in the region. Society Matters cic and its parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead form a vital part of that support network and Bellway is proud to be supporting the delivery of the Get to Grips with Universal Credit course in Gateshead and Newcastle in May.”
Through its donation to Society Matters’ Pay It Forward Scheme, Bellway will be providing 14 places on the Get to Grips with Welfare Benefits training course which has already met with huge acclaim from people and organisations across the North East and nationally.
Lee Booth, who leads on the development and delivery of training for the social enterprise explains how much the donation means to local communities:
“The number of people now claiming Universal Credit has sky rocketed due to the pandemic, so it’s critical that the professionals that are approached for help across the CVS by families in need of support really understand how the benefit works. Our training does that. It’s unique in its approach to breaking down what is clearly a very complex topic, and has been endorsed independently by ncfe as a quality learning programme.
Although our fair and affordable pricing policy makes this training very low cost and high value for money, in reality without this support from Bellway it’s highly unlikely that charities can access it. We owe a massive thanks to the team at Bellway that have recognised how important this is, and that have been prepared to make this donation.”
As well as its recent donation to Society Matters which will enable over a dozen charities and voluntary organisations in Gateshead and Newcastle to be trained to Get to Grips with Universal Credit, Bellway is also proud to work with the Community Foundation, which covers Tyne and Wear and Northumberland, and with the Greggs Foundation Breakfast Club Programme. The company also works with a national partner – currently Cancer Research UK – raising money for this charity across all of its divisions, and matches any funds raised by employees outside of work for good causes close to their hearts.
If you would like to make your own donation to the Society Matters cic Pay it Forward Scheme, to support local charities to get access to training they need, but otherwise can’t afford, please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.
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.
We’re so happy with our very first webinar, kindly hosted as a ‘Live Learn Lunch’ by the Institute of Employability Professionals mid December. We chose to talk about the 6 elements of Universal Credit, with an explanation of each element, and then a focus on how changes in circumstances can impact on people’s claims, as well as some obvious references to adjustments associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The webinar was formatted as a presentation from myself and Adam, followed by questions and answers. We think it’s so important for the support system to understand this dimension of the benefit, because then they can spot opportunities to help early on, before a problem brews and a claim is affected, so we were really pleased to have a good turn-out but also to have the opportunity for a recording to be viewed by those who weren’t able to attend.
Of course there’s a lot of detail we weren’t able to explore during the session, that we cover in a lot more detail in our Get to Grips with Universal Credit online training course, but the webinar did provide participants with some red flags they should look out for so that’s definitely a good start.
Lee Booth, 18th December 2020
The Community and Voluntary Sector (CVS) is probably better known as a route for people to volunteer, perhaps as a way to ‘give back’ at the end of a career, than as a provider of formative or developmental career opportunities. That’s understandable. To the unaccustomed the ‘third sector’ or ‘not-for-profit sector’ can appear to be a bit detached from ‘real life’ compared to the cut and thrust of the private sector, and the gargantuan establishment that is the public sector. But if you think about it, selecting the CVS as your career choice has the potential to transport you to as close to ‘real life’ as you can get.
So can you have a ‘career’ in the sector, really?
What’s the shape and size of the sector?
If we stand back and look at the sector in all of its different guises, there’s no wonder really there’s uncertainty about its potential. At one end of the spectrum we have un-constituted community groups run entirely by volunteers that deliver localised support, and at the other we have social enterprises that operate, from the outside, as a commercial private business, but with the unique characteristic of creating social rather than material wealth; and this comes with varying levels of obligation – some, like Society Matters cic for example, are asset locked, meaning that all profits/assets must go to the community they serve. Then firmly in the centre we have the charity sector, governed by the Charities Commission.
As a result of this diversity and varying levels of formality it’s really difficult to get absolute clarity on the numbers of people actually employed overall, however according to the UK Civil Society Almanac 2020 the voluntary sector has a paid workforce approaching one million, almost 3% of the total paid workforce, and representing a 17% growth rate in jobs since 2010. Most of these jobs are in voluntary organisations with less than 50 paid staff (which is a similar proportion to the private sector). Over a third of employees are engaged in social work activities, followed by education and residential care which each represent around 12%. It should also be said that although the sector’s primary focus is social wealth, a significant economic contribution is also made, estimated by NCVO and ONS to be valued at £18.2bn 2017/18, or 0.9% of total GDP.
Obviously when reviewing the shape and size of the sector, we can’t get away without making reference to Covid19 which has had an inordinate impact on the CVS. For some organisations income has been lost, with a fifth of small UK charities reported to be expecting an income reduction of more than 50% as a direct result of the pandemic, and as many as 1 in 10 charities are said to be facing imminent bankruptcy. Income through trading has been slashed due to lockdown restrictions, particularly in the case of charity shops, but for others their capacity has grown exponentially as a result of the availability of volunteers, which will improve their impact statistics which has the potential of helping them raise funds for next year.
However in my view the most fundamental shift is the heightened recognition of the part that not only the CVS, but citizens individually and collectively, can (should) play in supporting society and societal change. At every level the concept of community has entered spheres of influence that hitherto had been severely lacking. Beyond Covid19 this presents a tangible opportunity for growth for a sector that stands out for its essential contribution to all our lives.
So onto career prospects and the need for new skills. Interestingly, according to the UK Civil Society Almanac 2020, employees in the sector are highly educated, with over half of the workforce being educated to degree level of higher, similar to the public sector and much higher than in the private sector. What also stands out is that reported skills gaps are lower than the other sectors, however the skills gaps that do exist contrast with other sectors, mainly focusing on hard skills such as complex analytical, operational and digital skills, and on soft skills most particularly self-management and management and leadership. This mirrors my own experience which can be explained in part by the starting point generally being that the charity and its people tend to be for society first, and a business second.
But of course, despite the social drivers, CVS organisations are economic structures – they are businesses: they employ people, they manage finance, they market, they manage facilities and IT, they develop operating models that enable services to be delivered. Although this is evolving, the culture of resisting ‘behaving’ like a business, combined with skills gaps that potentially get in the way of innovation, marketing and strategic change, present a significant barrier to survival and growth for many. However it must also be said, as someone who has worked in both the private and the community and voluntary sector, running a social business is far more complex than its private counterparts – at the very least because your main customer is highly unlikely to be able to pay for what you have to offer.
If we can get over this stand-off, a significant opportunity does exist for a heightened focus on leadership and management development across the sector (not necessarily delivered by those already in the sector), and a call for collaboration with the buoyant and growing digital sector, to uplift the capability of the CVS to build its efficiency and its ability to compete.
A word about volunteering
Volunteering and employability do go hand in hand, both with respect to presenting opportunities for acquiring work experience and employment-related skills and assets, and as a direct route into employment. As an example, over 20% of paid employees at Citizens Advice Gateshead, the parent charity of Society Matters cic, started with the charity as a volunteer.
As the employment landscape continues to change as a result of the pandemic, the need for reframing and retraining to enable people in the sectors worst hit to move forward, volunteering in the CVS has the potential to provide the answer. An investment in making this work for the sector, however, is critical; the misnomer that volunteers provide ‘free’ resource needs to be eradicated, as under-investment will have a catastrophic effect on the sector, and will prevent this workforce development opportunity to be realised alongside draining the already limited resources needed to deliver social value.
Jayne Graham MBE
Executive Director, Society Matters cic
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.