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COVID-19 – ‘Meaningful use of time’ during lockdown

VOICES meaningful use of time
By Elena Casilli, Service Coordinator, VOICES   As a service coordinator we don’t just focus on “coordinating services”, however this is the bulk of what our role entails. There is however, another aspect of our role, which I think is the best part. The importance it plays in people’s lives is acknowledging that people are not defined by their multiple and complex needs.  My colleagues will be shouting “I know what she’s on about” because I’m always talking about it… Meaningful use of time (MUT).   For me MUT is the whole kit and caboodle and I truly believe that it is powerful in shifting a person’s self-opinion and the opinion of others.  It is a small  part of what makes us us… people with quirks, different interests, likes and dislikes, hobbies, what we consider to be leisure could  be another person’s idea of hell, but  everyone has something they love to do or would like to give a go.  The key is to keep on going, exploring and trying things out until something is found, something that clicks for that person and then you see a different side to someone. Currently with the cloud of Covid 19 over our community, how do we support customers… Continue Reading

A day in the life of a System Broker (in quarantine)

VOICES system broker
By Lauren Macaskill, System Broker, VOICES   Well this case study isn’t how I’d thought it would go! I did consider picking a day before being in quarantine to document what a typical working day looks like for a System Broker, but I thought why not use an opportunity to document this exact time which we may hopefully never experience again. All being well, I’ll have plenty of opportunities in the future to evidence what a typical day for me looks like – in the office.   So, what is a System Broker? To summarise, there are two of us doing the role which can include the following:   Overseeing a team of 8 Service Coordinators working with people experiencing multiple and complex needs such as drug misuse, homelessness, offending and mental health Complete suitability assessments for those introduced to VOICES – where they do not meet the threshold, provide specialist advice where possible and further signposting Meet with partner agencies on a regular basis to maintain and encourage partner agency working Ensure VOICES have attendance at all relevant meetings in the city Working with Service Coordinators, highlight any potential “blockages” in the system through appropriate escalation Contribute to the development of good practice and… Continue Reading

Coronavirus and its impact on benefits for people experiencing multiple disadvantages

VOICES coronavirus update
By Julie Holdcroft, Welfare Benefits Caseworker, Citizens Advice Staffordshire North & Stoke on Trent   The DWP has made many changes in the last 2 months to the benefit system in response to the Coronavirus. Some are short term changes and some will last up to a year.   Accessing Jobcentres Firstly, DWP have closed all Jobcentres to most people, apart from the most vulnerable (e.g. homeless people) who cannot access the DWP over the phone/internet. Those with work search and work availability requirements will have them removed, and will not be required to meet with a Work Coach for 3 months from 30/3/20 and then will be reviewed. For those making new UC claims they will not have to attend a Jobcentre to verify their claim. This will be done over the phone   https://www.gov.uk/government/news/claimants-are-asked-to-apply-online-as-jobcentres-limit-access?utm_source=0b62277d-0c8b-401d-a8cd-e22745cdbd9f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate   Self-isolating For those on ESA or UC who are self-isolating due to being high risk, having symptoms or living with someone with symptoms, the DWP will treat these people as having limited capability for work (LCW) without the requirement for any medical evidence or having to undergo a work capability assessment.   https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2020-03-03/24307   Disability and Sickness Assessments New reviews and reassessments (including face to face assessments) of benefits such as PIP will be suspended… Continue Reading

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and changes to the Care Act 2014 – A briefing for homelessness providers and practitioners

VOICES covid 19 care act
By Bruno Ornelas, Fiona Bateman and Michelle Cornes   Introduction This briefing highlights the changes to Care Act 2014 following the new emergency laws brought by the Coronavirus Act 2020. It is intended to support practitioners’ thinking when working with people experiencing multiple disadvantages across voluntary and community sectors, housing associations, faith based community services and other providers that come into contact with excluded groups linked to homelessness. This document therefore acts as an aid to prepare groups of workers to exercise their professional judgement in ways which incorporates relevant laws, ethics and rights based-thinking.   What is the Coronavirus Act 2020? The Coronavirus Act 2020 was passed through Parliament at a fairly rapid pace coming in to force on 31st March 2020. This created temporary emergency laws which allow local authorities to suspend many of the Care Act 2014 duties (Section 15 and Schedule 12, Coronavirus Act 2020). This means that enforceable duties in the Care Act, including duty to assess and the duty to meet unmet eligible needs, are suspended during the emergency period if, locally, resources are stretched to such an extent that it is necessary to ensure safe care to as many people as possible. In other words, some duties in the… Continue Reading

Universal Credit, Specified Accommodation: Payments from Universal Credit and/or Third Party Deductions for ineligible service charge arrears

VOICES payments from UC
By Citizens Advice Staffordshire North & Stoke on Trent   The Issue Ineligible service charges are those not covered by Housing Benefit.  Previously, supported and temporary accommodation providers could apply to have these paid from a customer’s legacy benefit where a resident was at risk of arrears or, already in arrears.  This system was not perfect and was subject to delays but, it did mean that the person would not be evicted due to service charge arrears, it avoided the need for cash handling and, it allowed focus on support. Supported and Temporary Housing providers have been told by the DWP that UC regulations do not allow payments to be made from a person’s UC for these ineligible charges. “Arrears of service charges can be requested from Universal Credit via a Third Party Deduction (if customer is still living in the property). Unlike legacy benefits there is currently no way of service charges (non-arrears) being deducted from UC.“  (Local DWP Homelessness Forum update August 2019) This mistaken understanding of the legislation will undoubtedly increase the level of evictions for people who are experiencing multiple and complex needs and who are already socially marginalised.  In January 2019 the UK Government’s official statistics found that the number of… Continue Reading

In Plain Sight: Review and Photo Gallery

VOICES in plain sight
Back in February VOICES commissioned local arts-based companies, B Arts and Rideout, to coproduce a live promenade performance based on the real lived experiences of local people.  The performance, which ran for eight evenings, explored the challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness, rough sleeping, mental ill-health and substance misuse.  Audiences were provided with insight and understanding of the effects of long term and multiple traumas through following the journeys of two characters, Tash and Steve. We would like to give huge thanks to B Arts and Rideout and to all involved in producing and managing the performances.  This extends to the team that provided warm, fresh food for each performance and to VOICES staff and volunteers who invested additional time to co-design, deliver, and staff each evening. As a result of the show VOICES have been invited to present learning opportunities within North Staffs Combined Health Care Trust and we are making plans to deliver a learning programme within Dovegate Prison.   Claire Ritchie, a national consultant in trauma-informed care and psychologically informed environments attended one of the performances and commented, “I just couldn’t stop grinning. The trauma informed buskers! It was ingenious! Inspired! I knew I was going to enjoy the evening. If you’re… Continue Reading

There’s something ‘phishy’ about this… Recognising and avoiding scams

VOICES avoiding scams
By Dean Spruce, Communication and Media Manager, VOICES   It’s always important to be vigilant in our efforts to avoid falling victim to crime, there is no end to the lengths some will go to in order to illegally extract cash from our pocket’s or gleam personal information from us that can be exploited. At the moment in the UK, along with the majority of the world, we are experiencing something completely new to us all. The new challenge that we all face brings with it all sorts of feeling and emotions, leaving us vulnerable to exploitation – uncertainty, doubt, fear, desperation and panic present a whole new world of opportunities for the scammers – preying on people’s fears and uncertainties is, unfortunately, as old as the hills. At VOICES we work with some of the most vulnerable people in our society, people without homes, people suffering mental ill health and people with little or no income. Life is already extremely difficult for many of us, making ends meet is getting harder all the time and drastic measure like those we are currently experiencing serve to intensify this. Scammers may use this opportunity to target people who are already in one degree or another… Continue Reading

Democratising or Demonising Drug Dependence?

VOICES democratising dependancy
By Steve Freeman, Solution Focused Practitioner   We know that mental health care still resonates with echoes of the moral judgement applied by Victorian philanthropists. Heart disease, fractures, and other physical ailments were seen as being mechanical failures with more or less effective remedies. Deteriorating mental health was seen as God’s judgement and, even when physical interventions were attempted, the cause was seen as moral failure on the part of the individual. Hence the dichotomy that exists between services, professions, sites of access, funding and public perception. Stigma is almost as evident now as it was 20 years ago. Despite, or because of, many statutory and third sector initiatives and celebrity endorsements you’re still more likely to be stigmatised because of your symptoms of psychological distress than anything requiring a bandage and an x-ray. What could be worse? Could it be worse? Yes it could. You could be drug dependent. That’s where stigma resides more than just about any other area of health and social care and public opinion. Take a minute to think about this scenario. Your sibling, child, best friend announces that they’re in a relationship with someone wonderful. They met at the vegetable counter in the supermarket. They share an interest… Continue Reading

Back to Earth: Red Dwarf, homework, and coronavirus

VOICES red dwarf
By Andy Meakin, VOICES Project Director As I write, we’re still less than two weeks into the lockdown following the outbreak of COVID-19.  Already we are adapting to the current situation by emphasising different ways of working and helping people safely.  In the past fortnight I’ve taken part in more group meetings by Skype, MS Teams, Zoom, WebEx, and WhatsApp than in whole of the preceding year. I’m working at a desk at home that I’m often sharing with my son while he completes schoolwork.   If I’m not attentive enough, I catch episodes of Red Dwarf through the corner of my eye being dual screened via Netflix while he’s, I’m told, also working on his maths.  This proves he has the same comedic taste (and guile) as me when I was his age.  As I ask him to turn off Lister and friends to focus on his work, I’m reminded by the current crisis of the opening line of Red Dwarf’s theme tune:   “It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere.  I’m all alone.  More or less.”   It would be easy to get into that mindset in the current lockdown situation.  Like the crew of the Red Dwarf we could feel like we’re locked… Continue Reading

COVID-19: Ending the Interim Accommodation Duty and Mental Capacity

VOICES ending iterim accommodation
Co-written by Bruno Ornelas (Head of Service and Safeguarding, VOICES) Fiona Bateman (Chair, CASCAIDr)   Does a Local Authority have the right to end the interim accommodation duty early due to the applicant’s behaviour in the face of COVID-19? And what consideration should be given to the person’s mental capacity to make cognizant and capacitous choices?   During these unprecedented times, local authorities and the wider health, care and housing workforce are confronted with difficult decisions when planning and applying responses to individual and systemic barriers that are inevitably exacerbated by COVID-19. Last week central government mandated that all local authorities accommodate all rough sleepers – a compassionate response to COVID-19 for those living on our streets. As the situation unfolds it will undeniably require difficult decisions to be made under new and exceptional conditions with limited resources, time or information. People experiencing multiple disadvantage with issues linked to housing and homelessness seldom become ‘problem free’ once their ‘rooflessness’ ends, or when the move away from the streets begins. Rather, those first few nights are the most critical in a person’s transition. As homelessness provider services and local authorities work tirelessly to ensure that ‘everybody is in’, hotels and bed and breakfasts will undoubtedly be challenged to accommodate… Continue Reading

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