Budgeting can be a really difficult subject for people with a learning disability, as numbers can seem really abstract. It takes a lot of mental steps to connect £10 on a piece of paper with a ten pound note with an understanding of what that can get you in a shop. Let alone thinking about ‘imaginary’ money on a bank card, what happens if you spend more than you have or how interest works!
For many people with a learning disability, the challenges of managing a budget are taken over by their support provider. Because money is an area where people could be very vulnerable to risk or abuse, many support teams safeguard people by having processes such as keeping their bank card and money in a safe, tracking their spending and receipts or only giving them a certain amount of money each day.
Whilst this ensures that people are kept safe, it stops them needing to learn, make mistakes or develop their independence around money.
Dosh has supported Lynn for a number of years and seen her develop her confidence and capability around money. In particular, we have encouraged her to build skills around decision making so that she feels in control of what is happening with her money.
We’ve done this by taking the different steps of making a decision – deciding you want something, looking at options, weighing up pros and cons – and breaking them down into more accessible steps. For example, when working out if something is affordable we use the Money Plan game. This is a really visual, accessible version of a budget where Lynn can move physical counters around a board and decide what she wants to prioritise.
In this way, making financial decisions doesn’t have to involve numbers. It also helps her think not only ‘do I have enough money’ but also ‘what decision will I not be able to make if I make this one?’ The Money Plan game has helped Lynn with everything from picking her weekly activities to deciding to save for a holiday.
Lynn’s support team have also worked with her to increase her independence with her bank card. She recently began to take responsibility for the card, keeping it safe in her room and taking it out with her. She uses the cash machine independently and buys things on her card so that she doesn’t have to worry about carrying large amounts of cash on her. This has also increased her independence as she isn’t relying on staff to ensure she has the correct change.
As Lynn’s story shows, there are lots of imaginative ways to use accessible communication techniques and pre-existing technology to increase people’s financial capability and independence. We don’t need to view budgeting in such a traditional way as only being based on numbers and spreadsheets. Financial capability can be about confidence, attitude, being supported to understand the steps involved in decision making, and many more things.
Rather than having a one-size-fits-all approach to the problems and solutions people with a learning disability face around money, we try to empower each person to set goals and find answers that work for them.
Meike Beckford November 17th, 2017
By Maddy Hubbard, Dosh Financial Advocate in the North West
Part two of our Financial Capability week series, you can read part one here.
Dosh has been supporting Ben for a few years, in which time he has massively built his financial capability. When I first met him, Ben was just getting by on his benefits and found money very difficult. Ben agrees “when I first got Dosh support it was really scary to have extra money in my account. I always thought I was going to spend it straight away.”
Since then, Ben has made huge changes in his life and how he feels about money. With help from the Prince’s Trust he found a job which he enjoyed, before leaving work this summer to start on a university course. He said “in regards to university it’s great – I love it. It’s great to get up every morning and do something I really enjoy.” In that time, he’s made big steps in his independence. “I still find it really tempting to have all my money in my account, but I think about what I can get from my money in the long term and that helps me resist.”
“Having support from Dosh helped be become more independent, because before that I needed my mum to control everything so I didn’t spend too much. I really liked that my Dosh advocate was closer to my age so she understood where I was coming from, but she was always professional with me. Knowing it was her supporting me with my money made it seem more personal as well, rather than a company you called up who put you on hold and transferred you through to someone.”
I asked Ben what his tips would be for someone who was in a similar position to him, struggling with money and too scared to be independent. His main tip was simply “get a job and don’t spend it all!”, but when we talked about it more he said that the biggest help had been learning to budget.
“A year of working and not going out has really paid off. I’ve seen people spend lots of money when they start work or get their student loan in. Most people spend hundreds a week on alcohol when they go out. But when people spend so much partying, they are missing out on bigger experiences. The benefits of working hard on budgeting are that this year I can do everything I wanted to do.”
Ben’s hard work has certainly paid off, he is running his own freelance photography business whilst at university and has booked a trip to spend a whole month in Australia. Having got the basics of budgeting sorted, he is dealing with keeping receipts, managing his savings, understanding exchange rates – really complicated areas of money he would have felt overwhelmed by a few years ago.
Dosh supports people with a learning disability who have a wide range in their level of capacity around money. Some, like Ben, are working towards full independence and not needing Dosh support at all any more. Others mark smaller milestones to build their independence, such as recognising different coins or remembering their PIN number.
Whatever the person’s goals, we strongly believe that financial capability is a core part of being able to live a happy, independent life. Tomorrow in part three of our Financial Capability week series, we will tell Lynn’s story of feeling more in control of her money.
Meike Beckford November 16th, 2017
Although the majority of people with a learning disability want to work, only 20% of working age people with a mild or moderate learning disability and just 6% of people with a severe learning disability are in employment. Compared to 79% of the general population, this means a huge number of learning disabled people are being denied the opportunity to work.
The barriers that stop people from working can vary, but people with a learning disability often face issues such as:
The government is attempting to tackle employers’ attitudes and provide support through the Access to Work scheme. This can help employers make reasonable adjustments and support people in their job. But before they can make use of this, disabled people need to be given opportunities to learn skills, gain confidence and get the same opportunities as everyone else.
The story of Kate*, someone Dosh supports who recently started work, helps illustrate the many different types of support needed for someone with a learning disability to be able to work.
Kate found a job in a warehouse thanks to a scheme run by the Prince’s Trust. With their support, she was able to understand what employers were looking for, gain skills and meet companies who understood the value of disabled employees.
As well as the normal nerves everyone has before starting a new job, Kate had additional worries that she wouldn’t be able to cope with working full time or keep up with her co-workers. Kate was sure she would always fall behind, as she hadn’t see other people “like her” in the workplace.
Kate’s advocate helped her understand her right to ask for reasonable adjustments so that her work hours could be reduced to a manageable level. Dosh also helped Kate to learn new budgeting skills so that she could manage her wages and pay her bills. Finally, we helped her to apply for Working Tax Credit so that she was getting all the money she was entitled to.
However, Kate still felt like other people in her workplace judged her for needing this or felt like she was getting preferential treatment. It took a long time before she felt like they had got to know her as a person and saw her as an equal. However, eventually her colleagues recognised the hard work and persistence that made Kate a valuable employee and great co-worker.
Kate’s story shows that even when people with a learning disability manage to access work, they can still face additional barriers due to other people’s attitudes and assumptions. The challenge is therefore not only to give people the skills, confidence, opportunities and support they need, but also to change attitudes to disability more widely.
One programme attempting to do just this is Change100, a scheme run by Leonard Cheshire and Koreo (which also runs CharityWorks, a graduate leadership programme that Dosh partners with each year).
Change100 recognises the need to challenge the employment gap not only through opportunities for disabled people, but also through challenging our ideas about what disability is and what disabled people can do. Change100 does this through 3 month paid work experience placements with top employers such as Barclays, the BBC, Skanska and Lloyds, amongst others.
There are other organisations across the world doing interesting projects to address the disability employment gap that we could learn from. For example, the Danish company Specialisterne trains Autistic people to become high-value consultants for the tech industry. Instead of seeing autism as a barrier to finding work, they emphasise the value that come from including people who are not ‘neurotypical’ amongst the workforce.
In the UK, there are organisations such as Remploy and Mencap doing great work and campaigning in this area. Support providers have recognised for a long time that there is huge value to employing ‘experts by experience’ to design the best possible care and support. For example, 40% of Directors within the Thera Group have a learning disability.
However, we need to make sure that people with a learning disability aren’t just employed within the social care sector. Disabled people have a huge amount of value to offer any workplace and we need to fight for more and better jobs for people. Whether people start by volunteering at a local community centre or gaining confidence at a self-advocacy group, we need to make sure there are opportunities for people at every step of the way.
At Dosh, we hope to empower people to make the most of their life by having more independence and control over their money. This could mean helping someone understand how their benefits might change if they started work, or giving people opportunities to have a real say over how our support works.
We are currently recruiting for a (voluntary) Non-Executive Director with a learning disability for our Board, so if you or someone you know might be interested in taking on a new challenge then please get in touch to learn more.
Meike Beckford October 12th, 2017
From Maddy Hubbard, our Financial Advocate in the North West
Around 1.3 million people in the UK have bought prepaid funeral plans, based on the promise that they are fixing their funeral costs at today’s prices. Dosh supports many people who choose to buy funeral plans, so we wanted to do some more research into the pros and cons. Are people getting a good deal?
The positives of a funeral plan are that you can negotiate exactly the arrangements you want and pay for them now, protecting your loved ones from rising costs and ensuring that you get the funeral you choose. In the event of your death without a prepaid plan, it could take some time to arrange for money to be released to pay for funeral costs. Instead of having to deal with this hassle, your loved ones can contact a named Funeral Director who will already know your wishes and have arrangements in place.
That all sounds positive, so what are the cons? One consumer body recently investigated the sector and claimed that tens of thousands of people could be paying huge sums in agency fees and their families may be left out of pocket in the event of their death. Fairer Finance has argued for stronger regulation (see their report here), as some providers could go bust and leave people with no funeral at all. Also, lots of plans don’t cover certain types of costs such as council fees for grave digging, which can increase significantly over time and still leave large costs to be paid when you pass away.
Given these concerns, when buying a funeral plan you should look for a provider that is registered with the Funeral Planning Authority (FPA). That will give you more protection as providers which sign up have to agree to a Code of Conduct and you can report them if something goes wrong. Being part of the FPA doesn’t guarantee your money is safe, but if the provider fails then other members are part of an agreement to try and provide the service you have paid for.
Another question to ask is how much you are paying in agency fees, as you might find that a large proportion of some plans is going to middle men rather than towards paying for the funeral itself. Check that the plan includes all the things you want, including burial or cremation costs, a headstone or coffin, transport, Funeral Director fees and make sure you know which extras aren’t included and will still need to be paid for.
Finally, even if you are choosing a reputable provider you need to think if a funeral plan is the right thing for you. A funeral plan is a significant expense, often between £2,500 and £4,000, which you are choosing to pay now rather than have taken from your estate when you die. There may be other things you have to choose not to do in order to afford one, such as missing out on a holiday or on enjoying your money whilst you are alive. It’s important to remember that even if you die without enough money for a funeral, your loved ones can get a Funeral Payment from the state to cover basic funeral costs, so a funeral plan isn’t the only option.
Prepaid Funeral Plans can be a great choice which save people money and ensure that their wishes are followed, but before choosing one it’s important that you understand the pros and cons so you can make an informed decision. If you have more questions or want to explore if a funeral plan might be right for you then talk to your Financial Advocate.
Meike Beckford September 28th, 2017
Posted In: News and Blogs
The amount that people get in benefits often goes up each year in April because of inflation. Inflation is a word for when prices go up so money is worth less. Inflation means that in 2017 you can buy less for your money than you could in 2016. For example, a 2% rate of inflation would mean that something costing £1 last year would cost £1.02 this year. If you want to learn more, you can watch an accessible video about why prices go up over time.
Inflation means that to be able to afford the same amount of things, the money you have coming in needs to go up by the same amount as other prices are going up each year.
The government chooses how much is paid for different benefits. They decided that working age benefits were going to be frozen (stay the same amount) for 4 years from April 2016. This means that pensioners will get more money each year, but people who are younger than retirement age will get the same amount from April 2016 to April 2020.
The government has decided that some benefits will still go up each year while most people’s benefits stay the same. Disability benefits are some of the benefits which have been protected. These benefits are:
Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) are paid to anyone who is disabled. It doesn’t matter if you are in work or how much savings you have, you just need to meet the criteria and score enough points at assessment.
DLA and PIP will both go up by the same amount this year:
|Old weekly amount||New weekly amount|
|Low Rate Care
|Middle Rate Care (DLA)
Standard Daily Living (PIP)
|High Rate Care (DLA)
Enhanced Daily Living (PIP)
|Low Rate Mobility (DLA)
Standard Mobility (PIP)
|High Rate Mobility (DLA)
Enhanced Mobility (PIP)
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support (IS) and Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) are paid to people who are not working. ESA and IS are benefits that replace earnings for people who can’t work because they are ill or disabled. JSA is also a benefit replacing earnings for people who are not in work and some people claiming it are ill or disabled. These benefits will not change for most people. The main part of the benefit, called the Personal Allowance, has been frozen and will stay the same.
Some people who get these benefits and are ill or disabled get an extra payment on top of their personal allowance called a premium. To be entitled to a premium you need to be in the Support Group or be getting a certain level of DLA/PIP, along with other conditions. These are going up this year by this amount:
|Old weekly amount||New weekly amount|
|Enhanced Disability Premium
|Severe Disability Premium
|Support Group component
This means the most you can get in Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) has gone up from £186.90 to £188 per week.
Most benefits are not going down. There have been some rule changes for the benefits cap which means that some people will get less money overall. But this does not apply to people who get disability benefits (PIP/DLA) or Carers Allowance. You can learn more about the Benefits Cap and find out if it applies to you on the DWP website and other advice sites such as Turn2Us.
There are also changes for people in the Work Related Activity Group for ESA if they have made a new application after 3rd April 2017. If you are already getting ESA in the Work Related Activity Group this should not affect you. You can learn more about the different ESA groups and the changes on the Citizens Advice website.
These changes will not affect everyone. If you think you will be affected then you should get more advice from Citizens Advice Bureau, your local Welfare Rights organisations, or from your Dosh advocate.
If you have any more questions or are worried that you are not being paid the right amount, there are lots of websites which can help you. For example, Turn2Us, EntitledTo and Citizens Advice Bureau. You can find them and many more resources in the ‘Links’ page on our website.
If you support a family member with their money and benefits and would like to learn more, our ‘Factsheets for Family Carers’ cover topics such as ‘Benefits’ and ‘Where does the money come from?’ which could also help.
If you want to learn more about Dosh Appointeeship or Financial Advocacy, please get in touch to find out how we can support you.
Meike Beckford March 28th, 2017
Posted In: News and Blogs
By Maddy Hubbard, Financial Advocate for Greater Manchester and the North West
Dosh is unique in providing advocacy specifically around money, but many people don’t fully understand what a ‘Financial Advocate’ is or what we do day to day.
‘Advocacy in all its forms seeks to ensure that people, particularly those who are most vulnerable in society, are able to:
‘Advocacy is the process of supporting and enabling people to:
At Dosh we focus our advocacy particularly around money, which is an area where people with a learning disability have in the past been given very little independence or control. We think that being able to use your money in the way you want is a key step to having control over the rest of your life.
As Financial Advocates, we support and enable people to:
A really important part of my role is getting to know the people I support and listening to what they want. I do this by visiting regularly and taking the time when we meet to find out what is important to the people I support. I really enjoy getting to know a new person, learning how they like to communicate and becoming part of the team making sure they have a good life.
For some people, having someone outside of their family and day-to-day support team who is there just for them can be really empowering. Others might not be able to communicate or take part in every aspect of a decision, but their Dosh advocate can make sure that everyone who is important to them is involved in making big decisions so that we get the best possible option.
During my time at Dosh I’ve learnt a huge amount about the benefits system, as well as other areas around personal finances such as money saving schemes and grants. By just supporting people with a learning disability, we have really specialised knowledge which helps us to get people the best possible deal for them.
We are also very persistent, working hard to make sure that people get everything they are entitled to. For example, one person I supported stopped claiming ESA because they had got a job, but I believed that they were owed money for a premium they should have been receiving. After lots of phone calls the DWP gave them almost £3,000 on the closed claim, but I was sure they were still owed more. Eventually, I got them an extra £3,500 on the claim, going back to what they were owed from 2014, which they will use to go on holiday to Australia!
Finances are an area where people can become nervous, wanting to safeguard and protect someone rather than give them real independence. At Dosh we help people build skills around finances, including budgeting, so that they can have more control over their money.
Some of the people we support find it very difficult to connect their short term spending with long-term consequences, such as not paying their bills. We want to give people independence, but also make sure they are not at risk, so for these people we can transfer a small amount of money every day to their personal account.
This helps someone feel independent and can help them learn budgeting skills whilst still being sure that their rent will be paid and their savings will be kept safe.
I have found that having a Financial Advocate gives the people I support the opportunity and the space to think about the things they want and plan for the future.
Dosh advocates are not just administrators managing someone’s benefits, we are a part of their circle of support and we want to help them to live a good life. Together with their family, support team and others who are important to them, we can work to identify and reach their goals.
I love working for Dosh, because as a Financial Advocate I am here to help people with a learning disability to live happy, independent lives. If you think that is something that you would like then talk to us about how we can support you.
Meike Beckford November 29th, 2016
Posted In: News and Blogs
By Maddy Hubbard, Financial Advocate for Greater Manchester and the North West
I, Daniel Blake follows the story of a joiner from Newcastle who has to stop work due to a heart attack and encounters the benefit system for the first time.
The film follows Daniel through his “claimant journey” (to use DWP language) of applying for ESA, being told he is fit for work, and having to claim Jobseekers Allowance. In turns confused and frustrated by the system, Daniel is stuck between having to search for work to get his benefits whilst being told by his doctor he shouldn’t be working for the sake of his health.
The director, Ken Loach, is known for tackling contemporary social issues in a powerful, realist way, such as his 1966 film Cathy Come Home about homelessness. When it was released, it made many people change their mind about homelessness and led to the start of the charity Crisis.
I, Daniel Blake is another powerful film about our society, but this time Loach has focused on welfare and the benefits system. It has divided opinions, as some reviewers felt the film was unrealistic and made to make a political point, whilst others have argued that the film reflects many people’s experiences and that the government should change its policies.
Accepting an award for the film, Ken Loach said “film can bring us the world of the imagination. But it can also bring us the world that we live in. We must give a message of hope. We must say that another world is possible, and necessary.”
As a financial advocate who supports people with their benefits every day, I found some of the most heart-warming moments of the film to be when people took the time to really listen to Daniel and try to help him. These people included his doctor, one of the DWP work coaches and the benefits advisor who helped Daniel prepare his ESA appeal.
It is important for everyone to remember that they don’t have to go through the benefits system on their own. There are organisations such as Citizens Advice Bureau that can help, free of charge, and plenty of advice websites including Turn2Us, Benefits & Work, and EntitledTo.
If, like Daniel, you are found fit for work and need to make an application for Jobseekers Allowance or Universal Credit, you should also bear in mind that like every other organisation the DWP is required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’. This could mean changes to how many hours you need to spend searching for jobs or other parts of your claimant commitment (the things you need to do to keeping getting your benefits).
Reasonable adjustments are a legal requirement to help people with a disability overcome the difficulties that are not faced by people who are not disabled. Reasonable adjustments can also be requested by other people, for example single parents who can’t look for work 8 hours per day as they need to pick their children up from school.
It is important to be honest and make sure that the Jobcentre knows about anything that will affect your ability to look for work. If you agree to a claimant commitment that you can’t meet then you will be sanctioned and your payments will be stopped.
This is where it can be really helpful to have an advocate in your corner. Someone who knows the system and can help you understand your rights and communicate your needs.
Many people would find it reassuring to have someone support them through their benefit claim, but for lots of people with a learning disability it is additionally important as many don’t have the capacity to understand what is needed to manage their benefits. This is where Dosh tries to help.
Dosh financial advocates support people using our considerable experience of disability benefits. We understand how benefits are changing and what the forms are really asking. We help people to complete benefit applications and ensure they are getting all the benefits they are entitled to, as well as challenging wrong decisions.
We can’t help everyone, but our mission is for people with a learning disability to have independence and control over their money. Getting the right benefits is a key part of enabling people with a learning disability to have a good life.
To reach out to more people, we share our experience and knowledge in other ways too. For example, we work with different groups and individuals to do research and create resources that can help people understand the benefits system. Our factsheets for family carers help families support their relative with their money and benefits.
We would love to work with more self-advocacy and family carer groups in the future, to provide talks about how benefits are changing or workshops to help people build their skills.
Meike Beckford November 7th, 2016