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Archive for October, 2011

Cllr Joe Pearson with Caroline Barlow
Jen Barton (St Helens Council – Benefit Contact Centre)
Andy Woods (DASH)
Chris Molyneux, volunteer with Warrington Disability Partnership
We wanted an open meeting to discuss concerns around changes to benefits and including return to work.
Cllr Pearson had agreed to attend to listen to our views and was also kind enough to answer a wide range of questions about the Council. He emphasized their support for 5 Boroughs anti-stigma campaign, and that they will not tolerate discrimination within the organization.
He also talked about the difficulties of the cuts including the judgments and decisions that they have to take. For example, they want to attract people to come into the town to shop and spend money, but to do that it needs to feel like an attractive place. That means they have to decide whether to spend some money on flowers and lights, which can seem like an expensive luxury to people who are worried about services. Council work and decisions can be more complicated than we first think.
He stressed that the Council is our Council and we do have a say in their decisions. We can contact Councillors, Parish Councillors and politicians who always want to hear our views.
Andy Woods St Helens Independent Living Services provide a lot of information about many different services for people with disabilities. They refer to other services where needed. They have seen a shift, and are expecting a bigger shift, in people accessing their services about benefits and employment.
Employment Support Allowance (ESA) is a big problem for many people at the moment, with a lot of people being found ‘fit for work’. They have campaigned for years for people to have support back to work. But that support is essential – people should not feel they will be pushed back to work before they’re ready. They are seeing people who are told they are fit for work, but where they think there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, so that people need help to appeal the decision.
Chris Molyneux has a personal interest in mental health. She is a member of Warrington Disability Partnership and is a benefits advisor. She tries to help anyone who comes in asking for support. She described lots of problems that people have in filling in the forms for benefits. She is heavily involved with Employment Support Allowance (ESA), including the work capability assessments (WCA) with ATOS. She described how the impact of physical health problems and benefits changes can itself lead to mental health problems.
Chris has real concerns that, in mental health, we don’t make our problems clear to the assessors. We always do what we’re told: we fill in forms and speak to people on the phone, because we do what we think we’re supposed to do. The ATOS assessors can only judge us on what they see, but we try to act as well as possible. We all do it – we might be having a good day, we’re proud of what we can achieve, we don’t want people to see us at our worst. But if that’s all that ATOS see, that’s what they make their decision on.

People who are experiencing mental health problems of any kind, including the side effects of medication, can feel confused and unable to concentrate. We don’t like to admit the worst of our symptoms because of stigma and discrimination. No one wants to admit a psychosis that makes them behave in unpredictable ways – but we shouldn’t deny it on these forms. We need to say it how it is.
Jen Barton: The Benefit Contact Centre mainly deals with Housing benefits and Council Tax, but staff are trained to refer people onto relevant organizations for help. They have details of all local organizations and are very helpful. They have private interview spaces. Their contact number is 01744 676666
REMEMBER: Forewarned is forearmed.

  • You are not on your own.
  • Everyone is being sent a questionnaire – get help to fill the form in, or to look at it, before you sign it.
  • Keep a diary – to remember how your week is going – so that you can remember just how your problems affect you for when you fill the forms in.
  • Don’t include your phone number if you don’t feel able to speak on the phone. And don’t feel you must answer phone calls. Let them know in writing if you prefer to communicate in writing.
  • You MUST attend the assessment.
  • If you disagree with their decision you can appeal – get support.
  • There are many local organizations who can help or signpost you to someone who can help. CAB can signpost, as well as the organizations here today. Helena Homes have a good service for their tenants.
  • There are sites on the internet including Benefits and Work who have very good leaflets. Some are free while others need a subscription. The Forum will look into subscribing. http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/

We thanked all the speakers for a lively and informative meeting.
The Welfare Reform Bill (WRB) is currently going through the Committee Stage in the House of Lords. Watch the discussions on http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Live.aspx This Bill is not law yet – it is being discussed. The Bill provides for the introduction of a ‘Universal Credit’ to replace a range of existing means-tested benefits and tax credits for people of working age, starting from 2013. The Bill follows the November 2010 White Paper, ‘Universal Credit: welfare that works’, which set out the Coalition Government’s proposals for reforming welfare to improve work incentives, simplify the benefits system and tackle administrative complexity.
The Lords have already raised concerns that the intention to limit contributory ESA to 12 months would be retrospective and an unusual precedent.
Social Evening – Thank you to Denise for organizing the event. Everyone enjoyed themselves, with money raised going to the Oasis group.
Crisis Services – Scrutiny report – We have had no further updates from either 5 Boroughs or the Council.
Consultations – mental health services

  • 5 Borough’s consultation – Ian Mountain to speak at our meeting.
  • PCT’s consultation – thank you to everyone who returned their forms for the first part of the consultation. There will be further focus groups.

St Helens Mental Health Partnership Board
Meets November 16th

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