A meeting held in March 2018 provided an opportunity for our small groups to look at a specific theme that had been agreed as a priority concern and spent time thinking about the following key questions:
- 1. What are the key things (practice and experiences) that happen on a daily basis to make things harder?
- 2. What could the solutions be?
- 3. Would these solutions work?
- 4. What would life look like if you adopted these solutions?
An agreed area of work for Stockton Poverty Truth Commission was Mental Health and Poverty.
Practices / problems faced on a daily basis that make things harder:
- Mental health = depression. It does hurt, not only one person, but many.
- A significant number of people do not claim their correct entitlements, either because they do not know what their entitlements are or because it is a complicated process to access benefits.
- Many are also turned down for entitlements and have to go to tribunal.
- Accessing the right support is problematic – long waiting lists, dual diagnosis.
- Job Centres and Work Related Activity programmes not set up to meet the needs of people with mental health / emotional issues.
- Inability to afford much needed prescriptions.
ESA / PIP Assessments
The system is dehumanising and creates ‘real poverty’ for the most vulnerable in our community.
- Assessments are a tick box algorithm that treats everyone the same.
- System is flawed from top to bottom – is bureaucratic with many barriers preventing people from appealing incorrect decisions · Claimants may bring someone along for an assessment – but are not always allowed to speak and fully support claimant.
- Questions are posed as to catch out people – worded to say ‘what can you do’ as opposed to ‘what are your limitations’.
- Assessors not suitably qualified.
- Little regard given to doctors report or reports from third sector support organisations.
- Assessor does not make the decision. Their report is sent to a decision maker and many examples have been given when assessors have been inaccurate with comments raised by claimant.
- Travel costs not reimbursed until form is completed and receipts sent in (many cannot afford the taxi travel). Appointments are often not made in the town where people live.
- Have a simple poster / leaflet that lists all benefits (design to encourage people to apply for their entitlements and designed by people with direct experience). This should be given out to everyone… Avoid stigmatising. Think about how best to distribute information.
- Training- to all who work in an official capacity i.e job centre, local authority, WRAG’s.
- Have ‘champions’ who have / or are living with poor mental health to talk to others (people and official departments)
- Remember – it is not just about entitlement to benefits but to services · Should be talked about in schools.
Note: what we have now is not reaching everyone, so we need to work within the Stockton Poverty Truth Commission to improve this.
- Support people who are making claims.
- Mentors to be made available.
- System needs to be changed.
- People to see the report made by the assessor before it goes to the decision maker
- Special needs awareness training needed
- Need the support from local Managers of assessment centres.
Workshop meeting – summary points and actions
The first mental health and poverty working group met during May 2018. The discussion focussed on the following points:
- Entitlement / access to services – waiting lists too long,. Support is sometimes time-limited and not appropriate to the support needed.
- Entitlement / access to entitled benefits. Evidence highlights many accessing entitlements are denied at the assessment stage (receiving zero points), only to have this awarded following a tribunal.
- Unaffordable prescriptions – people coming off medication (anti-depressants) due to the costs of prescriptions.
- Suicide rates.
- Problems associated with gaining sick notes and ‘proof’ of illness.
- Is Stockton a ‘place of welcome?’ – are people recognised and valued in their own right? There is a value in creating safe spaces and building community resilience with people choosing to come together.
- A recognition that people need support and a listening ear when trying to resolve issues around debt, arrears or other associated financial difficulties.
Ray Leonard provided the group with some background information relating to initiatives happening (of which further detail can be found at) https://www.placesofwelcome.org.uk/
Essentially any community could create these ‘spaces’ as long as the values of open to all and genuine hospitality are modelled. These spaces have the potential of having ‘professional support’ referring into such groups. This can be appealing to the public/voluntary sector who are under huge budgetary pressure
A model exists, but like anything, they take a few activists, possibly from both the community and ‘professional’ sectors to invest time and energy getting them established.
If this working group is keen to progress this idea, Ray would be willing to contact Brian Robinson and together, the group could see how this might be achieved within the borough of Stockton.
Discussions with Watson and Woodhouse solicitors based in Stockton on Tees have spoken with Teesside University and it appears they are willing to set up a clinic helping members of the community with filling in benefit forms, however the time scales would most likely be looking like September.
Also further discussions are taking place as to how Watson and Woodhouse can potentially go about raising some sort of judicial review / action against DWP in relation to PIP / ESA assessments.
The following link https://www.moneyandmentalhealth.org/ is a useful website to gain information in relation to current work that is happening regarding money and mental health. The charity is committed to breaking the link between financial difficulty and ,mental health problems. The charity conducts research, develops practical policy solutions and works in partnership with both those providing services and those using them to find what really works.
Upon deciding that Mental Health was a topic that both community commissioners and civic and business leaders wanted to push forward, the Stockton Understands pledge was created.
The Stockton Understands pledge was an initiative that asked front line services to adopt some or all of the proposals from our pledge in order to make services better suited to those with mental health needs. We wanted to develop a better working relationship with these services in order to make effective change. Both the community commissioners and civic and business leaders involved with the Stockton Poverty Truth Commission came up with the ideas for this pledge.
On October 17th (The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty) we displayed our pledge in Stockton Town Centre to engage with the community and get people’s thoughts. It was met with positive feedback but was questioned if the vital front line services would get on board. For more on our October the 17th event click here.
The full pledge is below: