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Category: Web Log

Appealing a benefit decision? You need to read this…

VOICES benefit advice
By Karen Dunn, Specialist Benefits Advisor, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke   Following a recent discussion around a case involving benefit entitlement it became apparent there was some learning to be shared regarding claiming the correct benefit when a previous ESA claim has stopped. Karen Dunn, specialist benefits advisor from the CAB tells us: Getting income related Employment & Support Allowance (a legacy benefit) or Universal Credit while challenging a limited capability for work decision   If the person we are supporting has had their income related ESA claim stopped because of a ‘limited capability for work’ decision, it is often the case that we rush to help them make a new claim for ESA when this is not the best course of action. It can sometimes leave the customer with no money at all.   As part of the Welfare Reform programme, regulations concerning making a new claim for income related ESA when someone has failed the work capability assessment; failed to return the ESA50; or failed to attend/take part in the work capability assessment, came into force affecting all repeat claims made on or after 30/03/2015. Payment can now only be made in very specific circumstances.   Income Related Employment & Support Allowance repeat claim on… Continue Reading

Approaches to well-being

VOICES Helen session
By Helen Dos Santos NLPMP, Wellbeing & Resilience Life Coach   Staff at VOICES are people that are passionate about their work and care about the people they work with, but equally staff teams need to look after their own well-being. Being able to ‘switch off’ and ‘wind down’ can be difficult. Since the beginning of the project VOICES have been working alongside qualified professionals that deliver clinical supervision to the team. Helen Dos Santos provides alternative approaches to staff well-being, such as Hypnotherapy, Time Line Therapy and Neuro Linguistic Programming. Helen writes about her about her approaches and the recent sessions with the team: The staff at Voices of Stoke have amazing staff, achieving great results for their services users, but all too often working under very challenging and demanding circumstances.  This can have an impact on the general well-being of the staff, start to impact on their positive outlooks and has the potential to lower their energy levels. It’s essential to ensure a good all-round balance is achieved, and investing in mental wellbeing is just as important as looking after ourselves physically.  Taking time out to talk through issues, or practice some mindfulness and enjoy some quiet “me” time to still your thoughts is no luxury.… Continue Reading

Isolation, Loneliness & Connection

VOICES connection
By Dean Spruce, Communication & Media Coordinator, VOICES   I recently had a conversation with an inspirational individual who is campaigning to raise awareness of the impact and prevalence of loneliness and isolation within our community, and as a result have been thinking about this within the context of the work we do here at VOICES ever since. When we think about loneliness what is the first thing that we picture? As we are all subject to the human condition, I think it’s fair to say a lot of us will be thinking of the stereotype, an elderly lady or gentleman, sitting in a chair alone. We imagine a solitary existence where days and weeks pass by without any contact with the outside world, except perhaps through a television sitting in the corner of a barely furnished room. The tragedy of this is that the stereotype is perfectly valid, for some people the images we just conjured up are very real, and in 2018 the thought that some of our elderly are faced with this kind of existence is very upsetting. However, this is a stereotype, ‘a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or… Continue Reading

Ever heard of the Plain English campaign?

VOICES plain english
By Mandy Jago, Staff Wellbeing Manager/Organisational Development Consultant, NHS Combined Healthcare and VOICES volunteer   Ever heard of the Plain English campaign? Chrissie Maher started the Plain English Campaign in 1979, to campaign against jargon and misleading public information. She believes that everyone should have access to clear and easily understandable information.   Let’s think about medical information…. Here’s an example of what the Plain English Campaign would call gobbledygook: ‘The criteria are embedded within an indication of needs matrix, encompassing the continuum of care needs. The criteria for fully funded NHS care (levels 5-6) are designed to take account of the needs of those only at the most complex end of the continuum. The vast majority of those in receipt of care from health and social care services are provided from a range of mainstream services, which are available to all according to their need, or packages of support provided jointly by health and social care working in partnership (levels 1-4).” (From a letter to a patient from an NHS Trust)  Clear? Easy to understand?  Hardly.   So why does that matter? Around 15 per cent of adults in England have literacy levels at or below those expected of an 11-year-old.  This means that they can understand short straightforward texts on… Continue Reading

From Stoke to Seattle

VOICES seattle
By Steve Barkess, Community Development Coordinator, VOICES   My adventure is soon to begin… In a few days’ time I will be traveling to Seattle to take part in the transatlantic exchange to learn about how they support people who are homeless and take steps to tackle this as a wider issue. My focus will be on the lived experience aspect of this, as this I think, would be a good place to start. I suppose my research topic is quite specific as I am sure everyone who has been successful in being selected for the exchange is. Whilst doing my research on how people are supported in the US it became apparent that a lived experience and community approach is paramount for much of the support offered to individuals. I was also really interested in the dedicated approaches to peer specialist role within the support sector and the way this is managed. So why did I focus on lived experience? I have a strong belief that people with lived experience should be employed within services at all levels. In the UK it is not uncommon that people with lived experience are turned down for roles within services due to lack of experience and knowledge of… Continue Reading

Rough Sleeping, to citywide teaching

VOICES lee points it out
Lee Dale, Expert citizens, VOICES   In 2014 I was invited to do a short interview with Darren Murinas, Expert Citizens.  At the time I was very much still ‘in the fight’.  I say this because I was addicted to substances, including benzodiazepines and, although I was staying in temporary shared housing accommodation, I was technically homeless.  In the film I shared my lived experiences of addiction, mental ill health and homelessness.  The film was later used for 1001 Lives storytelling.  My story begins….   I came from an impoverished family and received free school meals which meant I was ‘different’ from the start –this resulted in me always having a low opinion of myself. I have grown up with these feelings which have affected me as an adult. I have recently found in my recovery that I was suffering with a mental health illness known as Social Anxiety Disorder.  This is a result of my experiences at school, not to forget the depression I experienced due to the death of my father when I was fourteen years old and later the death of my mother in 2009.  The latter sadly meant that I became homeless -this was a result, in my opinion, of, not… Continue Reading

Citizens Jury – Appropriate access to mental health services

VOICES citizens jury
Steven Barkess, Community development coordinator, VOICES   This month my colleague, Dean Spruce and I, attended a citizens jury presentation and launch of a report focusing on access to appropriate adult mental health services in Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire CCG’s who developed a committee in common to discuss; what is not one of the biggest health inequalities in the county. This is the second citizen’s jury to take place following the successful work done around diabetes and is the seventh community conversation to take place.   What is a citizen’s jury?   Essentially, a citizen’s during is a mechanism for participatory action research which allows people to be involved in the development of research leading to action on a local and national level. Citizen’s juries have been used widely throughout the United States since the 1960’s and were introduced to the UK in the 1990’s and have become common place in service evaluation, processes, planning and scrutiny within public services. Often people who are accepted onto the jury have some knowledge or experience of the subject that is be assessed or scrutinised. This isn’t of course the type of jury that will determine innocence or guilt but to propose possible recommendations, action or solutions to… Continue Reading

I remember the first time I went to see a doctor about my mental health…

mental health blog
Erin Dunn, Administrator, VOICES I remember the first time I went to see a doctor about my mental health. I’d always been somebody who got quite anxious, so I’d never really thought anything of it. However, this time something really wasn’t right. Stress and frustration had become to consume me to the point I was having panic attacks. I was starting to frighten myself and was unpleasant to be around. I had a chat with my mum, and she advised me to make an appointment with my GP. I remember feeling sick with worry, the thought of having to talk to somebody about my feelings petrified me. I hid how I felt behind jokes as I couldn’t bear to open up properly. What if I was laughed at? What if the things I was worrying about weren’t significant enough? Regardless of these feelings I went to see my GP; they reassured me that I wasn’t being silly, and that I had an anxiety disorder. I was prescribed some beta-blockers and referred to CBT. I left the doctor’s surgery feeling like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I felt proud of myself for being honest about how I was feeling.… Continue Reading

Making the case for systems change

VOICES change the system
Dean Spruce, Communications and Media Coordinstor, VOICES In my role for VOICES the term and the concept of ‘systems change’ is never far from the front of my mind. Having previously worked in a number of support based roles within the sector (rough sleeper outreach, homeless hostel and tenancy support officer within a housing team) the list of things I perceived could be changed for the better was quite a long one when I arrived in my current post. Making the transition from front line operations to an office based role was quite a culture shock however, and did require adjustments on my part, in both my thinking and in my approach. Discussions relating to ‘the system’ and ‘how we can change it’ were increasingly seeming more abstract to me, often being approached from a much wider angle than conversations I’ve previously had on the front line, and leaned more towards the political than the practical I’d previously been used to. What is ‘the system?’ Where does it begin and end? Is there one, or are there many? Which parts need to change? Which parts can we change? Who do we need to influence to affect these changes? How do we talk about… Continue Reading

Poverty and Transgender

VOICES poverty and transgender
Written by Steven Barkess, Community Development Coordinator, VOICES I am a member of the LGBT community and have had the privilege to witness many social movements of equality for many LGBT people in the western world. I have and have had many friends both part of and external to the LGBT community and I am still shocked to find that people in both spheres still have a huge lack of understanding of the issues transgender people face. Especially those going through gender reassignment. I am not an academic, or a specialist in transgender issues or trans myself but I am able to recognise some of the inequalities such as class and race which effect transgender people in today’s society. I am however a gay man who has got to know many transgender people both before and after transition. Within my career working with vulnerable people I have also observed some of the serious issues that trans men and women face. This has made me think a little more about the whole process. For someone to live their life as their true gender they often need to have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, not only for the legal recognition but also to access medical… Continue Reading

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