Demystifying Benefits – For Everyone’s Benefit

jayne_knights_200x200As Universal Credit sweeps the land and the General Election looms, BHT Training’s benefits trainer Jayne Knights discusses how clients will gain in confidence when their workers have a better understanding of the benefits system…

It’s quite an exciting time to be a benefits trainer.

I’m aware that sentence may make most people fall about laughing, as the last thing they associate with benefits is any level of excitement. The benefits world is associated with fast-changing complexity, a specialist terminology seemingly designed to confuse and exclude, and wave after wave of reforms intended to save money and change behaviour.

I have been talking about benefits for a really long time, after deciding I didn’t have the nerve or confidence to put my social work qualification into practice. What my placements taught me, however, was that poverty permeates everything, and that all social workers need to have a benefits understanding. Not just social workers of course, but anyone working with people on benefits and low incomes has to be able to have a meaningful two-way conversation about benefits.

Most of the time this subject is so high up a client’s agenda that it’s difficult for them to address other issues, especially if they are dealing with the current wave of hazards, such as sanctions, ESA assessments, bedroom tax and the looming spectre of Universal Credit. For a client to be able to offload some of their benefits anxiety in a conversation where the basic terms, rules and amounts are understood by everyone is a huge relief, as too often the client has to educate the worker in what’s going on.

Brighton and Hove, plus East and West Sussex, have really good advice and support resources, but they are stretched so thin that staff in all other roles need to know what’s happening in this current benefits regime. As Universal Credit approaches, albeit slowly, and the requirement to be digitally competent increases, so will the demands made of all staff.

This is why we are delivering courses which will address these needs: Benefits for Beginners will provide a gentle introduction to ‘benefits world’ by providing a clear overview to the whole system, with a special emphasis on the benefits most relevant to your client groups. It will, essentially, demystify the benefits system for everyone’s benefit.

Universal Credit is the buzz phrase of the moment. Make sure you are able to have a proper conversation with your clients about it, even if it’s just to reassure them that they won’t be affected by it. Knowing what’s happening with UC is also a brilliant way to ensure you can help clients maximise or stabilise their current benefits situation in preparation for it.

As I said, there is a lot going on, and it’s important to be in the loop, especially as the election approaches. I look forward to seeing some of you on these courses.

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