It was a cold February morning when I first touched down in Maidenhead and NRAS HQ, and since then my feet haven’t even so much as skimmed the ground (which is less than I can say for the snow!).
As the new Government Affairs Officer, my days have been jam-packed in the seven weeks since I joined. Hardly surprising when you consider the biggest changes in 60 years to both the NHS and welfare system have just come into force.
Having some experience of the health and reforms owing to an internship with Cancer Research UK, before joining the NRAS family, I have been able to throw myself straight into the heat of the debate. Already I have attended numerous meetings with charities we are working with to champion the cause of fluctuating conditions, had a blog on removing prescription charges for people with long-term conditions published on the leading political blog ‘Left-foot Forward’ to then be used by the SNP to bash Scottish Labour and also given a presentation on the welfare reforms to our Leeds NRAS group. And this is just a very small sample of my recent activities.
The vast majority of my time, both now and in the future, will be spent on all things concerning welfare reform, social care and Scotland. I have been particularly struck by the scale of the challenge facing people with RA and other disabilities owing to the new welfare reforms, and while the government is justified to try and reform a system that has largely been untouched for the past two decades, it cannot be denied that another key aim is also to substantially trim the overall bill.
A recent report by the think tank Demos and charity Scope has revealed that by 2017-18 about 3.7 million disabled people will collectively lose £28bn as a result of the reforms, with some individual potentially standing to lose out on £23,000 each over the next five years under the new system.
The introduction of Universal Credit, which rolls a number of income-related benefits into one simplified payment (such as income related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), job seekers allowance and housing benefit) seeks to ‘make work pay’ by ensuring it is always financially beneficial to be in work. The biggest change for people with disabilities is the replacement of the disability living allowance (DLA) with the personal independence payment (PIP), which will see the vast majority of people retested under a new system to assess their daily living and mobility needs.
It is around the issue of PIP that I have done much of my work so far. After many problems with the assessment process for ESA through the Work Capability Assessment, we have been lobbying the government, as well as managers at Atos and Capita, hard to ensure they truly understand the fluctuating nature and intricacies of RA. We hope the work we have done will pave the way for a better quality assessment under what will be a stricter means of testing an individual’s needs.
One thing I have learnt in my short time with NRAS is you are never short of things to do. Life has moved at 1,000 miles-an-hour and I cannot believe seven weeks have already been and gone. There is a lot of challenging work ahead and I am looking forward to everything that it will bring and hopefully I can meet many of you along the way.
Lastly, I would like to thank everyone at NRAS for helping me settle in! They have been great.
Government Affairs Officer