Other Big Books

In the 2012/3 edition of the Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health , 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 this website began,  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

YBAC LogoYour 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

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They liked the Big Book so much they bought the…

No,  not quite, but CHC  have commissioned a version of their own, which was more generic, with less in-depth on mental health, but with more breadth more to cover a wider range of benefits.

Beneath its friendly cover – alternative suggestions included “Don’t Panic” – there lurked 400 pages. BUT be not afraid – this is most definitely not a tome for the expert only.

Inside, you could find the Big Book trademark of 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 could  find a useful overview of the system and of what was changing  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 was for the non-expert with no prior knowledge assumed. It’s was designed for for, housing officers,  support workers and tenants themselves.

Of course,  in 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 there may be scope for something similar in the future may.

If you had one and liked it, you may want to look at the latest edition Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health or look out for the forthcoming Big Book of Benefits and Pension Age…below

You’ve read Your Big 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 that particular course topic,  but also to get familiar with Your Big Book, with participants getting their own copy and taking it away, 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 programmes of courses in Community Housing Cymru  venues and to deliver these in house afor CHCymry members. Indeed we have since done a repeat, but using copies of the current Big Book of Benefits and mental health in 2018 and 2019.

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” training whether online or in time face to face when it becomes possible to do so.

A Big Book of Benefits and Pension Age?

But before that  exciting collaboration with Community Housing Cymru emerged, Judy and I had already been pondering a Big Book of Benefits and Pension Age, as the next big step in developing Big Book of Benefits together.

Historically, the Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health came out of a collaboration between a local Mind and a local CMHT, working  predominantly with “working age” service users.

However,  older “service users” , were also well covered within its pages, as all the information on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) also applied to Attendance Allowance, while Pension Credit was effectively an over-60s version of Income Support, that was the unified means tested benefit claimed by those of working age, back in the day.  Things seemed much rather simpler before Governments took to “benefits simplification” 

We nevertheless, had a supplement for courses around benefits for older people to cover Retirement Pensions and to also offer different tips and pointers across disability needs in older age.

However, as the benefits system went into new big changes (too often in a rather chaotic, dysfunctional and harmful way) , things got a bit more binder stretching for the Big Book 🙂 . So:

  • our coverage of “working age” DLA started switching over to Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Much of use to those claiming  AA and DLA remains in the latest edition,  but readers are also signposted to the fuller coverage in the original AA and DLA chapter available for free on our Downloads page.
  • we are also setting out the welcome mat, for full coverage for the friendlier Scottish version of PIP,  the Adult Disability Payment that starts in Spring 2022
  • and the means tested benefits of old – now termed  “legacy benefits” – remain covered in full, while co-existing with an increasingly complicated Universal Credit, (as it reality clashes with real people’s needs and the law).

So, it’s a tale of  increasingly squeezed space and  double coverage until 2025 within the Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health and an increasingly different benefits system for those above and below a changing pension age!! What was once  sensible foresight and plans to build on build an older people’s supplement is becoming more of  an essential need for a new Big Book of Benefits title…

The Big Book of Benefits and Mental Health, then,  needs a sibling,  not just to play with,  but also to help its guilt at not covering  issues for people who have come of pension age,  as well as it once did 🙂

The original idea, then  was for a separate Big Book of Benefits and Pension Age  with our traditional focus on a practical, friendly benefits toolkit for those in older age,  to cover:

  • the changing changes in when exactly is pension age 🙂
  • full coverage of State Retirement Pension and its changes from April 2016.
  • fuller coverage of a changing  Pension Credit , which while not caught up directly in the Universal Credit story,  is being affected by it: there are some UC- related changes and the shameless forcing of mixed-age couples back into pensioner poverty on UC – thanks to design carelessness or incompetence – out of the protective arms of Pension Credit.
  • an updated full treatment of the disability benefits of Attendance Allowance and DLA,  but adding in – from past supplements –  some of the additional tips and pointers for issues in older age. Together  with changing arrangements in Scotland for the forthcoming Pension Age Disability Payment
  • important other benefits for older people – winter fuel payments, TVC licenses, Health Benefits and the increasingly different ways of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction/Support for claimants aged over opension age
  • and some of the benefit interactions with new Pension Choices and how someone’s  changing housing and support needs interact with their benefits.

A more ambitious version of the new book, offers a an extende coverage to  other common financial issues in pension age, to come together into a more ambitiously named Big Book of Benefits, Money and Pension Age.

This would add in more in depth coverage in areas such as :

  • pension choices, looking at both the benefit and tax issues
  • a fuller treatment of emerging plans to tackle the social care funding crisis
  • a more in-depth coverage of Care and Repair and Disabled Facilities Grants etc
  • more on how occupational and private pensions work
  • different ways of releasing equity and the pros and cons
  • dealing with financial affairs when you have had enough of all that
  • concerns around inheritance issues
  • planning for funerals

Such a more comprehensive new Big Book, would indeed make a great deal of sense and add value to offer a wider coverage of financial issues in pension age for a a wider use and audience, if we can make a success of fitting it in to a coherent Big Book of Benefits whole. And we make even more of our co-author’s expertise and specialisms in benefits beyond benefits too.

In principle then a great idea. However, it is an entirely joint effort though, that we have somehow contrived not to deliver this book as we have previously promised 😦

However, as Publisher,  it is my full responsibility, so I can only  humbly apologise to all who have been expressing kind and patient interest. The point now, as I re-commit to getting Big Book of Benefits on to a firmer footing is  that we do rather better. As Publisher I need to develop greater powers of encouragement and hard stares, for all co-authors, including this very one typing away 🙂

So,  the new cunning plan is to think back from the story of our first Big Book to help us through some difficulties birthing this new title. We may need to remember the organic story of the Big Book of Benefits of Mental Health, and to take a step back and plan a really useful and ambitious path to emerge over the first few editions  This might involve :

  • a 1st edition, a little less ambitious – perhaps more like the original plans, while incorporating some of the newer ideas. But actually to be out there for readers to tell us what they think
  • and then over a 2nd and subsequent editions, to bring in further ideas and  content as we build on athat 1st edition.

This comes from reflecting on the story of the original Big Book of Benefits. Early editions established the distinctly new and accessible friendly, distinctive, practical toolkit approach And as each edition was updated for another year, new useful ideas and content came in and the Big Book developed organically.

Nothing wrong then in havin lots of ideas from the start but it may be that we need to walk in wiser foottsteps and get a good 1st Edition out there with hints of new delights in store to come in subsequent editions. A quick review then to consider: What is realistically doable by when?  How do writer’s availabilities and  other commitments look? What do the entrails of slaughtered aubergines tell us about big changes coming? Does the added flexibility from planning this over several editions help?

I am then loathe to offer a new date, until we have done this quick review, so that we know with confidence that this is one we will stick to.

For now, my huge apologies for those who have been so patiently waiting and I hope to confirm our definite plans very soon. A bit of watch this space, then, I’m afraid, but not for very much longer.

I need to allow space for co-authors – that’s me and him – to reach a joint decision as to ways ahead and a definite date. But with  a new zeal as Publisher, I need to know if there be any good reason – from a Big Book of Benefits practical view as to why we cannot get the 1st edition out by…

However,  I will leave that sentence hanging until both co-authors have had a chance to agree a joint and cunning plan. But rest assured I will finish that sentence very shortly 🙂

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