Havering Mind adviser offers people lifeline when welfare issues reach crisis point
PUBLISHED: 15:00 05 November 2016
With the release of the acclaimed film I, Daniel Blake which highlights the challenges of a life on welfare, Chloe Farand speaks to a financial adviser about how mental health sufferers manage to get through the system
Filling welfare benefits forms can be a tedious process, but for people with mental health issues, it can trigger a crisis.
At Havering Mind, volunteers help dozens of service users and their carers to navigate the system, acting as a lifeline for many people, who would have nowhere else to turn for help.
George Argent, 59, of Cranham, is a non-legal advocate and after working in a bank for 17 years and due to his own experience with mental health, he is now helping others to receive the support they are entitled to.
“It’s short term crisis intervention,” said George.
“Someone comes with, for example, a telephone bill and wants to defer the payment of it, but with a mental health problem that will be a crisis and they will be really stressed by something like that,” he said.
But George’s work goes much further than dealing with bills.
The majority of people, who come to see him need help with the welfare benefits process but George also signposts people in need of more specific housing or debts advice.
“I am a listening ear but at the same time I am a voice like an advocate,” he said.
From dialling through the “distressing” voice recorded options of an answer phone to speaking to officers at the Department of Work and Pensions, George says he cannot solve people’s wellbeing but he tries his best to ease the immediate crisis.
“Particularly when people need to be assessed and their benefits are stopped – there is a crisis. It is bad enough for people, who don’t have a mental health problem.”
George and his one colleague helped 68 people last year – most of them were asking for a mandatory reconsideration after their initial demand for benefits was turned down by the DWP.
But in George’s experience, most reconsiderations were turned down a second time and over the years he is helping more and more people to take their case to an independent tribunal “because there is nobody else to do it,” he said.
He told the Recorder: “There was one successful tribunal with someone who had acute mental health problems. But three years down the line, it has been reviewed again and the benefits have been turned down so we are back where we started.
“It’s going to be months of anguish. I am quite disappointed that we are taking the same person to tribunal, when nothing has changed so far as I can tell.”
George, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder 20 years ago after a series of professional accidents, added people suffering from mental health issues were “not always very good at managing money”.
“It’s just one of other crises in their lives. From my own experience you just don’t focus on things like that and drift off for a while,” he said.
Although George recognised work can be a positive step forward for people with mental health issues, he believes employers can be wary to employ them.
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