Martin Gollan, Support and Development manager

Newcastle CVS is holding an alternative general election hustings on 4 June at Northern Stage. Invited are candidates from the five main parties contesting seats in Newcastle and Gateshead. The first part of the hustings will be workshops on four key issues that were selected in a poll of Newcastle CVS members. The key issues are mental health; inequalities and welfare reform; employment and work; young people.

Here we look at the five main parties (Conservatives, Greens, Labour, Lib Dems and UKIP) have to say in their manifesto’s about mental health

Encouragingly each of the party manifestos commits itself to improving adult, children and young people’s mental health services and to ending the stigma of mental illness.

The current state of mental health provision is described variously as ‘the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age’ (Labour); a ‘chilling crisis’ (UKIP); ‘the crisis of our time’ (Greens). Lib Dems and the Conservatives promise innovation, improvement and closing of the mental health gap.

All parties say they will invest more funding into mental health services; Labour plans to improve children’s mental health services at a cost of £90m per year and will ring fence mental health budgets so money reaches the frontline. The Conservatives assert that since 2010, they in have increased spending on mental health services to a record level and will continue to invest a further £1 billion by 2020. The Lib Dems plan to ring fence funding mental health services within a 1p rise in income tax. The Greens will increase investment in mental health as part of an immediate £12 billion a year increase to overall NHS funding. UKIP promises at least an extra £500m every year, which they claim could fund 6000 clinical psychologists to see 500,000 adults, children and young people.

Both Lib Dems and the Conservatives claim the credit for introducing parity of esteem between mental and physical health services and both now want to improve on it. However all the manifestos want mental health (described by the Greens as a ‘Cinderella service’) to have equal status with services for physical health.

All, except Labour and UKIP, make explicit commitments to improve awareness of mental health in the workplace. The Conservatives will take the regulatory route by amending health and safety regulations and extending the remit of the Equalities Act but also plan to train 1 million members of the public in mental health awareness. Lib Dems will support good practice among employers to ensure people with mental health problems get the help they need, and will introduce a ‘wellbeing premium’ to reward good employers. The Greens will end discrimination in employment by offering support to people with mental health problems.

Children and young people’s mental health services can expect improvements whomever forms the next government. Schools are identified by all parties as having a key role in identifying and addressing mental health problems in the young. UKIP will introduce emotional wellbeing into Ofsted inspection framework along with specialist counselling services in secondary schools. Both UKIP and the Conservatives spotlight the internet as a source of mental health problems among young people. Conservatives will publish a green paper on young people’s mental health (they will also publish a Mental Health Bill) and introduce mental health training for teachers. Labour will create a new index of child health indicators, which will measure four key indicators, including mental health, dental health, obesity and under-fives health. Lib Dems will also introduce mental health into the school curriculum and provide specialist training for teachers. The Green’s offer safe, speedy access to 24 hour quality care; all parties promise to end out of area provision.  

Labour promises a new model of community care that will take account of primary, secondary and mental health services and to improve the quality of social care and support for people with a disability or mental health condition by creating a national care service. Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens aim to improve services available to LGBTQI and BAME communities. The Conservatives aim to create ‘the world’s great meritocracy’ will reduce mental health issues in BAME communities. All manifestos make some link between poor mental health and wider social issues including poverty, worklessness, alcohol or drug use and crime.

Improved mental health services for ex and serving armed services personnel are promised across the manifestos (the Greens simply say they will look after ‘veterans and their families’).

Sadly any role of the voluntary sector or social enterprises in the promised new world of mental health services isn’t particularly explicit in any of the manifestos. 

Jacqui Jacqui Jobson, Director Advocacy Centre North

Jacqui Jobson, Director at Advocacy Centre North talks about why she is passionate about supporting vulnerable clients to access their basic right to vote

The biggest obstacle to some of our service users voting is a basic lack of support to access their rights as a citizen to vote. Supporting vulnerable adults to vote by helping them register is one of the practical things we can do as a charity to make sure that the voices of our clients are heard and their rights are being achieved.  If your charity does one thing in the next week it’s this!

So what you can do as an organisation?

 Promote the date – register by 22nd May or you can’t vote

Explain to everyone about how to register and to vote by following these easy steps

  1. Gather info – it’s easier than you think. National insurance number is on a pay slip or a benefits letter, name ,date of birth and address is all that is needed
  2. Supporting  someone  to apply online takes  5 minutes on the government's register to vote webpage
  3. Or you can phone your  local council and ask for electoral  services and they will do it over the phone (Newcastle 0191 278 7878 / Gateshead 0191 433 2166)
  4. Local libraries will help (Newcastle and Gateshead Libraries have agreed to support this)

 Once someone is registered, give them information about voting and their rights and support them to vote, Mencap easy guide

You could even plan an event, for example - Skills for People are planning a Get Out to Vote workshop for people with Learning Disabilities on 19th May (call them for more information on 0191 281 8737)

Northumberland Tyne and Wear Mental Health Trust plan to raise awareness and one London Mental Health Trust has produced a video with Royal College of Psychiatrists

Most people are entitled to and have a basic human right to vote

 You can still vote if you have no fixed abode. Obtain a ‘Declaration of Local Connection’ form from the local electoral office. 

You can still vote if you are detained under the mental health act (unless you have been moved there from prison)

You can still vote if you are on remand as you are not yet guilty of an offence

You can still vote if you lack mental capacity (but you can’t vote by proxy) - see Lucy Series blog here

You can still vote if you are a domestic abuse survivor - support to register anonymously

Don’t forget, if you provide housing CQC look favourably on services which have registered people to vote and sometimes ask about it at inspections. And also if you don’t register people to vote, you could be committing an offence by interfering with a person’s legal right to vote (breach of Article 3  Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights)

Also on a personal level, I will be asking my older next door neighbour if she needs any help in registering to vote. Next week go out and do the right thing!

Helen  Helen Chandler, Mental Health Advocate, Advocacy Centre North

Some of my colleagues have already shared some of their service user’s stories, so I wanted to share the story of someone I have been supporting. Welfare Advocacy is a huge demand on our services and thanks to the story of I, Daniel Blake, we wanted to use this and put into action dedicated support for those who have struggled like Daniel. Like my colleagues had, I have used a fictitious name to protect his identity. 

Colin had for many years been awarded Disability Living Allowance, Middle Rate Care Component and Lower rate Mobility Component. He has an acquired brain injury, severe epilepsy and related depression, and so relies on others to help him with all his paperwork. He depends on his son for help at home to maintain his independence. However, Colin was transferred for a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) medical assessment last summer and following this was awarded 0 points.

He therefore was turned down for the new benefit. Even worse, the decision was not conveyed to him for over five months! Now he has finally received notification of the decision, he is seeking a mandatory reconsideration. The months of uncertainty have caused him untold anxiety and impacted on his physical and mental health.

We strive to help people like Colin, and this is why we have made the important decision to provide a welfare advocacy service. We have to fundraise so that this work can be continued, therefore, please help us through donations and/or sharing our I, Daniel Blake campaign wide and far. This is greatly appreciated. #EveryPoundCounts

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Martin Martin Gollan, Support and Development manager

Changes introduced today, to Child Tax Credits and Universal Credit could push 200,000 children into poverty. From 6 April 2017 the changes will restrict these benefit payments to the first two children in a family and any child born today or after will not be eligible for additional support. From next April all families claiming Universal Credit will have payments restricted to the first two children even if a third child was born before April 2017.

Families affected by the new rules, first announced by George Osborne in 2015, face loosing up to £3000 per year according to Child Poverty Action Group and the IPPR. These changes come into force at a time when official statistics show record numbers of working families in poverty.

Commenting on the figures Oxfam said “there are now more people in poverty in the UK than there have been for almost 20 years and a million more than at the beginning of the decade”.

Further welfare changes are planned for 2018 as restrictions on claimants tighten and Universal Credit is rolled out across the country. The new chancellor, Philip Hammond was criticised after delivering his first budget, for not making any mention of poverty and taking the opportunity to reduce the impact of welfare reforms on the ‘just about managing’ families that the government has said are its priority.

Advocacy Centre North’s crowdfunding campaign is raising funds to provide expert support for families caught up in the nightmare of poverty and help them to navigate a system where claimants have 20% chance of being sanctioned and 49% appeals since 2010 have been successful.

If you want to help support families that are facing increasing risk of poverty visit Advocacy Centre North’s crowdfunding page 

Margaret  Margaret Mound, Mental Health Advocate, Advocacy Centre North

As a Mental Health Advocate, I have recently been shocked by the way that the most vulnerable people claiming Universal Credit are being treated.

Someone I work with suffers from depression and anxiety. He is aged 58 and is illiterate – only able to write his name. He has a probable learning disability and memory problems. His Universal Credit claim is run by the Jobcentre plus 100% online. They make NO exceptions.

With no computer, no phone and unable to use a mobile phone he also struggles to use buses as he cannot read bus numbers and sometimes gets off at the wrong stop. He relies upon others to take him to appointments and to remind him of them. Advocacy is crucial in this situation, as he cannot understand much of what is said in the Jobcentre appointments and cannot remember afterwards what has been said. He does not understand phrases such as “you need to reset your password”.

He did not understand that his Universal Credit payments included rent and so when he received a payment which was backdated into his account, he did not realise that he had to pay his rent from this, especially as it had previously been paid direct to his landlords. His landlord threated to evict him from his home due to rent arrears. This put him into a downward spiral of panic and further depression/anxiety.  As his Advocate I contacted his landlord and set up an agreement to repay the arrears, and the threat of repossession was withdrawn on this basis.

The Jobcentre required a GP fit note, but he did not understand what this was, so I supported him to obtain this from his GP, which avoided a benefit sanction. Together with the Welfare Rights team we helped this man challenge the amount of benefits he was receiving which resulted in a lengthy ongoing battle to get a backdated payment.

The Department for Work and Pensions policy to manage claims online really disadvantages people like this. The Jobcentre refused to send letters out to my client despite them hearing that he has no computer or skills to access or understand what is sent online. Appointments made online would easily be missed whereas a letter sent to his home could be explained to him by his Advocate or family.

Sadly the Jobcentre staff didn’t understand the role of an Advocate and refused to let me sit with him during the appointment, this meant I was not able to support him in the way he needed. I was only able, with difficulty, to take notes to help him understand and to remind him of what was required of him.

He feels that the system is punitive and he lives in a constant state of fear that his benefit will be stopped because he has failed to do something required of him, such as to attend an appointment only notified to him online.  

Vulnerable people need the support of an Advocate to help them to get through this nightmarish system and to gather together evidence to use to push for changes to the system, so that they can be treated with the dignity they deserve.

Please show people like me service user your support through donations and sharing our I, Daniel Blake campaign wide and far because #EveryPoundCounts

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Clare B  Clare Bethell, Community Advocacy Coordinator, Advocacy Centre North

It has become a common thing – I see it on a daily basis, how many service users here at Advocacy Centre North are let down by the welfare system, being assessed as having no entitlement to benefits however, when it comes to the appeal they are granted the benefits they were entitled to in the first place! The distress they feel during this process and the anxiety when wondering how they will cope are awful things to witness.

I wanted to share Peter’s story here, so you can get an insight to his everyday struggles. To protect the identity of my service user, I have used a false name:

Peter has a chronic and serious health condition as well as mental health issues. He is highly reliant on his sister who provides personal care and support at medical appointments and this support enables him to maintain his independence. Consequently, he was originally awarded the enhanced rate of Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

At medical assessment last summer, the assessor did not let his sister come into the assessment. He was awarded 0 points. This decision had a major impact on Peter’s physical and mental health for many months leading up to his appeal. Unlike the assessment, the appeal took into account the substantial medical evidence supporting his case, so the Department for Work and Pension’s decision was overturned and enhanced PIP was once again awarded.

For people like Peter, we understand the need and demand for a Welfare Advocacy service. Therefore, we campaign for this and ask for your help by donating, or just simply taking a few minutes to share our I, Daniel Blake inspired fundraising campaign, so that we can help the real Daniel Blakes of today. Thank you. #EveryPoundHelps

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Gem  Gem O' Connor, Neurological Advocacy Co-ordinator, Advocacy Centre North

After watching Daniel’s struggle to get the benefits he needed, I couldn’t help but think of the service users I work with and how similar some of their experiences are.  As an Advocate I find myself continually frustrated, seeing people being turned down for benefits at assessments time and time again only to be successful when it gets to appeal stage. Between the assessment and the appeal (which can be months), I have seen people suffer increased anxiety and distress – they’ve been unable to function in their daily lives when in effect, they have been entitled to the benefits all along.

I’d like to share a service user story. I have changed her name to protect her identity:

Dawn has a learning disability, mental health issues including anxiety and depression and chronic arthritis. She attends a project for people with learning disabilities four days a week and depends on this to maintain her confidence, self-esteem and well-being. Additionally, she had a Care Act Assessment which assessed her as having substantial needs, hence the funding for her placement.

Dawn attended a Medical Assessment last year. Despite the Medical Assessor being aware of all these factors, it led to Dawn being awarded 0 points and therefore, she was taken off her allowance and advised to apply for Job Seekers Allowance.

She didn’t have the capacity to go through the job seekers process as you can imagine. On hearing the result she was understandably in a state of panic and distress for many weeks and the staff at the project she attends were alarmed about the decline in her mental health.

Eventually, with the support of her Advocate and a Housing Support worker, she was able to overturn the decision on appeal but only after she was first turned down for a Mandatory Reconsideration of the decision.

I knew my colleagues would feel the same as I did after watching I, Daniel Blake. I was overjoyed when I found out we would be looking to employ a Welfare Advocate to provide focussed support to people like Daniel.

So we launched our campaign. Please help us by donating to and sharing our campaign. Every pound donated helps. Thank you.

Sally  Sally Young Chief Executive

Having just got back from a week's holiday in sunny Spain the night before, and having got the early morning train down to London for an NCVO Board meeting, it would be fair to say I would have liked a quiet night in. However, I was privileged to be able to attend the The Gateshead Awards as Simon Elliott (our Chair) and myself presented in awarding the Voluntary Organisation of the Year to the Gateshead Older People's Assembly.

Gateshead Older Peoples Assembly Winners

I don't use the word 'privileged' lightly, but it was genuinely humbling to attend these community-focused awards. This was the seventh time they had taken place and the ceremony was chaired by the dapper Bob Moncur, who is a Freeman of Gateshead.

There were several awards but each category honoured local people who had given their time freely - as a young carer, a young achiever, sports achiever, sports club, sports coach, young sports achiever, voluntary organiser, and lifetime achievement award.

This wasn't a flash affair with evening gowns at a posh hotel with a fancy dinner, costing £50 plus a head; but a genuine, community-focused event at Gateshead Civic Centre with a tasty buffet and a warming atmosphere.

The awards were given by senior Councillors, officers, aldermen and The Mayor. I really liked that over 4000 Gateshead residents had participated in the voting. Cllr Allison Thompson, the Mayor of Gateshead, finished the evening by noting that "local people are at the heart of Gateshead". The Gateshead Awards properly recognised the hard work and dedication of individuals and groups that "made Gateshead a better place to live, work, visit and play".

As I reflect on the day that focused on some very high level, strategic discussions in London on the value of social action, I saw the reality tonight. So thank you to Gateshead Council for organising these awards to recognise and commemorate the value and work of local volunteers. But most importantly thank you to those people who give their time and commitment so openly and freely to help others and their communities.

Gateshead Award logo new      Gateshead Council

Jane  Jane Kingston, Senior Advocacy Coordinator, Advocacy Centre North

Having been a “Friend” of Tyneside Cinema for many years I try my best to be faithful refusing to see a film in any other venue.  I was delighted with the opening of the Tyneside Bar Café a few years ago, as it meant I could combine two of my favourite things – film and food, in the beautiful surroundings of an art deco building. I have celebrated many significant events in my life in this place, so it holds a special place in my heart.

A cold and wet November evening last year, I decided to bite the bullet and see the well discussed “I Daniel Blake” film. I had been resisting simply because I face the issues in this film in my day job. I just didn’t fancy mixing work with my film-going pleasure.

Tyneside Cinema not only offered a showing but organised after film discussions with actors from the film and local academics – perfect! I have to admit that I left having experienced an emotional roller coaster of a night – anger, frustration, sadness and even tears. The places I work and volunteer featured heavily in it, so this was a visually interesting watch as well as a very personal experience.

The next day I came to work with a ‘film-hangover’, fired up to do something proactive about the issues that Ken Loach and sixteen films had identified. Talking to colleagues about how the film mirrors or differs from our experiences of supporting people who are seeking benefits or appealing medical assessment decisions. We all agreed that the value that advocacy support can bring to such situations, really needed to be promoted on the back of this media wave.

We soon got to work planning a new role in Advocacy Centre North. Although we cover a wide range of support needs under our current projects, we had already identified a gap in provision for people at the hard end of national Welfare Reform. We often debate the impact our service users face of the decline in advice and help for people around benefit changes and our struggle to link them up with the appropriate services. What we needed was a dedicated Independent Advocate to focus on helping people to navigate the benefits system, and this needed to happen quickly with the roll out of Universal Credit looming in April 2017.

With the support from our forward thinking Board of Trustees at Newcastle CVS, we were able to recruit to the post within a matter of weeks. Without the usual time constraints of grant funding we were able to pilot the new position and try Crowdfunding as a way of resourcing the continuation of this much needed work.

...So our campaign was launched. Please help us by donating to and sharing our campaign. Every bit of support helps. Thank you.

Jacqui  Jacqui Jobson, Director, Advocacy Centre North (part of Newcastle CVS)

In this week’s Spring Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond chose to raise national insurance on the self-employed, which could cost individuals up to £589 per year. The decision of the Prime Minister a day later to put back the NIC increase until the autumn does nothing to mitigate the costs when it will be introduced. What the Chancellor however had nothing to say about were the changes to the government’s welfare reforms. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has forecast that without changes to in-work benefits almost a quarter of UK households with children will be living in poverty.

As a charity in the heart of Newcastle, working with some of the most vulnerable people in the city, Advocacy Centre North sees at first hand the impact of welfare reform and the distress and chaos it can cause to ordinary people many who will be working in low paid jobs or the ‘gig economy’.

That’s why we are creating a new post of Welfare Advocate who will be able to support people for whom Universal Credit could mean the risk of losing all or part of their income. Newcastle already has the largest and busiest foodbank in England. We want our Welfare Advocate to make sure it doesn’t get any busier.

To fund the new advocate post we have launched a crowdfunding appeal with support from director Ken Loach and the producers of I Daniel Blake to match the £16,000 that our trustees have invested. Many of the scenes in I Daniel Blake were filmed a few hundred metres from our Newcastle office. Advocacy Centre North is committed to helping people in crisis, real life Daniel Blake's and this is an opportunity to support a unique response to the challenges of welfare reform.

Contact us

Higham House, Higham Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8AF

Tel:      0191 232 7445
Fax:     0191 230 5640