In the 2012/3 edition, Judy wrote:
” Judy’s joined this year by Tom Messere – a hugely experienced benefits adviser with long years of welfare rights and anti-poverty work behind him – and also her partner in life for the last 30 years. Together they hope to hear the patter of many more Big Books in years to come as well as offering an extended range of training courses.”.
That was the plan but not long after Judy was diagnosed with cancer and sadly the wee timorous beastie proved too advanced and aggressive, despite Jude’s huge courage, good humour and the best efforts of the medics.
Your Big Book of Benefits
The first of these new siblings was the April 2014 Your Big Book of Benefits in response to a request from the Housing Associations movement in Wales.
Community Housing Cymru have been actively supporting tenants and member associations to prepare for benefits changes, through their benefits advice team and their www.yourbenefitsarechanging.co.uk campaign.
Your Benefits are Changing and welfare reform
Your Benefits Are Changing was initially a response to big changes directly affecting tenants and landlords – the so called “bedroom tax” and the moves to move towards payments of Housing Benefit directly to tenants and then as part of a single monthly benefit payment.
But in offering information and advice around these changes, it also became clear that tenants had mounting worries about a whole raft of other benefit changes coming their way:
- the unemployed facing a new sanctions regime, that could wipe out benefit and stop the help with rent, and first in line for Universal Credit
- those in work facing cuts to tax credits and the bedroom tax
- those with health issues, picking themselves up from ESA migration, about to face the switch to PIP and the eventual gaping disability elements gap in Universal Credit
- older tenants, while more kindly treated by welfare reform, still face upheavals to come as Pension Credit changes.
And even without the challenges of change, the scandal of under claiming continues, with latest figures showing up to £20 billion a year going unclaimed in means tested benefits and tax credits alone. The media and politicians after cuts though prefer to focus on the much smaller problem of benefits fraud, perhaps to stigmatise claimants and “blame the victim” for cuts ahead.
Whatever the merits of the changes, the changes will be difficult for people to adapt to, whether simply getting to grips with monthly payments or avoiding the pitfalls. And if your DLA has been wrongly stopped, your ESA unfairly sanctioned , it may be more hard choices between feeding the kids, keeping warm or paying the rent than any fecklessness or poor budgeting that may hit rent arrears levels in an age of growing social insecurity.
YBAC offers an innovative approach to preparing those who may manage the changes well and supporting those who may struggle to get through. And while the understandable concern is with the impact on rents, it is also a way for housing associations to reconnect with the movement’s community values.
And it is an innovation that Big Books is proud to contribute to and be associated with.
Your Big Book of Benefits
They liked the Big Book so much they bought the…
No not quite but CHC have comissioned a version of their own, which was more generic, with less depth on mental health, but more breadth to cover a wider range of benefits. For more details see here.
Beneath its friendly cover – alternative suggestions included “Don’t Panic” – there lurks 400 pages. BUT be not afraid – this is most definitely not a tome for the expert only.
Inside you will find the Big Book trademark full but simple explanations, practical page by page advice for filling in some of the trickier forms, sample completed forms, what to do next, Ten Top Tips, Benefits family trees (and I mean actual trees – well pictures anyway :-)) and case studies of a slightly mystical bent – Gandalf, Merlin and Hagrid all feature
At the beginning you will find a useful overview of the system and the changes and a simple three step suggestion – with examples – as to how to navigate the complexities of an ever changing landscape of some 50 benefits.
So big and scary at first sight, large and comforting when you get to know it – a bit like the said Hagrid 🙂 – this book is for the non expert with no prior knowledge assumed. It’s for tenants, housing officers and support workers and tenants themselves.
Of course in this its first year there may be the odd rough edge or something you feel could be better explained. But if you have a comment, suggestion, spot an error, want to say what could be best dropped or ought to be included, please do let us know. There’s a feedback in the back to make Your Big Book of Benefits truly yours.
Your Big Book of Benefits has proved a popular success in its first year, and we hope may be repeated in some form in the future.
For an up to date resource for this year you may want to look at the latest Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health details of which are here .
You’ve read the book now see it live
Your Big Book of Benefits was also the basis of two season’s of linked training courses, delivered by Big Books at CHC offices in Cardiff and Bangor.
The courses offered not only a chance to tackle the topic of that course, but also to get familiar with Your Big Book, with participants taking their own copy away with them, as a trusted companion and resource, taking training theory into making a real difference in practise.
That follows the tradition of our own Big Book training linked to the Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health.
As with the Book itself we hope to explore the potential for repeating both programes of courses in their venues and delivery of those courses “in house”
In the meantime, Big Books would be delighted to come to your Housing Association – within Wales or over the border(s) – and deliver training “in house” , linked to the current Big Book of benefits and Mental Health
A Big Book of Benefits and Pension Age?
But before the exciting opportunity to collaborate with Community Housing Cymru emerged, Judy and I had been pondering a Big Book of Benefits and Older Age, as the next big set that we had been hoping to take together..
Historically the Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health came out of a collaboration between a local Mind and a local CMHT, with predominantly “working age” service users. However older “service users” were also covered, as all the information on DLA applied to Attendance Allowance and Pension Credit was covered in full..
However, as the Big Book bursts at its bindings covering both old and new “working age” systems and Government policy and benefits become increasingly divided at pension age, a separate book seems the next step. We have also had requests for a Big Book covering dementia issues from EMI teams, with full coverage of Attendance Allowance forms
There will be some big changes for new Retirement Pension claimants after April 2016, Pension Credit will change too and then again as Universal Credit rolls out (with some bad news for couples who straddle the age divide 😦 ) and older people will continue to claim old style “disability benefits’ in the form of Attendance Allowance.
So work is under way for a new Big Book of Benefits in Older Age for next year, for even though those of a certain age are being treated with a little more respect, the challenge of change remains, as does the scandal of under claiming of benefits.
Watch this space…