Hello: Life as a Government Affairs Officer

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.

Leo Watson

Government Affairs Officer


6 Replies

  • Glad u r on board.

    I agree with what you say about the changing nature of the disease and I feel that a lot of people just don't realise that maybe the ten minutes of an assessment you will be fine but just the stress of doing that puts you back to being in pain for the next week.

    I live with constant pain, before I got RA I would not have believed this possible and would not have thought that this " bit of arthritis" would devasate my life and end up with me dismissed on ill health from work.

    This is where things get contradictory I feel from the reforms, they might say you are well enough to work, but I was dismissed s as I was not!, then how do you find a job when you are already dismissed due to disability. Who would you choose if there was a fit 20 year old with the same qualifications.the one with the disability and lots of appointments and flares?

    I worry that I will be left with no benefit and no work due to just getting sick!

    These are the sort of worries I think a lot of us have Leo and to have someone voice that for us is wonderful.

    Cheers Axx

  • Hi Allanah,

    Well I know that before I arrived my Government Affairs Manager, Jamie Hewitt, has done some great work raising awareness of the needs of people with fluctuating conditions and thanks to his work on the Work Capability Assessment there has been some really positive changes introduced by the Government.

    I am, and will continue to, make the same impact on PIP and will be keeping a close eye on it's progression. We find these tests are often far too concerned with just the short assessment and so I completely agree with your statement.

    I have written a report on RA and how it affects people's daily lives to the health assessor Atos, who will be carrying out health assessments for PIP in the North and London. This means before they see anyone with RA they will have this guide to read so they have a much better indication of what it really means to have RA.

    Thanks for your kind words.


  • What on earth is a "Government Affairs Officer"? It appears to me this is another bureaucratic jobsworth job that adds no real value to the economy and is, like so much of central and local government, completely unproductive.

    Sorry if I've got it wrong but I can see no real purpose for the job other than to attend meetings with other similarly designated people.

  • Blimey someone got out of bed on the wrong side this morning....everyone's entitled to their opinion but no need to be rude.

  • My idea of what a government affairs officer for NRAS is would be a person who understands government health and social policies and goes out campaigning for us RA sufferes so that thing like disabiity legislation will take intoaccount our SPECIFIC needs, not those with for example cancers as we hav e some similar but some very different needs fro government ppolicies.

    I for one am glad NRAS have someone on their side to help us with all thes changes ie on our side.

  • Hi hampshirehog,

    I think you may have got the wrong idea as Leo works for the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS), not the Government. NRAS is the charity that supports this HealthUnlocked platform for people with RA and we blog to keep you updated on our work. Leo campaigns on your behalf to make RA a more recognised condition in the UK. Campaigning is a huge part of the work of NRAS. If you would like to know more about the charity and what we do, please visit nras.org.uk.


    Ruth Grosart


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