Possability People's advice centre is a vital service that has enabled many of my constituents to successfully challenge incorrect disability benefit decisions, and helped them to get the support they need. Therefore, the announcement that Possability People will have to close their advice centre following a funding decision made by Brighton and Hove CCG is deeply worrying.
Possability People have been told by the CCG that: “Given the financial challenges faced by both the local NHS and Local Authorities, it is essential we focus our limited resources on essential priority areas, and services which are not already provided by either statutory or voluntary sector organisations.”
I think the impact of accessing timely, and sound, advice on disability issues is being seriously underestimated by commissioners. Furthermore, to pretend that there isn't a link between health and wellbeing, and people who are in crisis and struggling to cope not being able to access support, is hugely short-sighted and counterproductive.
I struggle to believe that other advice agencies in the city have the capacity fill the gap left by the closure of Possability People's advice service. And with Possability People specialising in disability advice, I fear that many vulnerable residents in the city will be left unsupported when they desperately need assistance should a funding solution not be found.
Shrinking the advice network in Brighton and Hove does nobody any favours in the long-term. Yet decisions made by commissioners to address the short-term savings they say they need to make to balance the books, looks set to jeopardise the advice work of an established, and respected, organisation that has supported residents in the city for more than 30 years on disability issues.
With figures in Brighton and Hove revealing that between October to December last year, 84% of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) appeals were won by the appellant, it shows that there are significant flaws in the current assessment processes for disability benefits.
Many of those winning appeals will have been supported throughout the process by some of the wonderful advice agencies we have in Brighton and Hove. Without this support, appealing a benefits decision, and the prospect or a tribunal hearing, can be an incredibly daunting and frightening experience, which can exacerbate health conditions.
Over a twelve month period, Possability People supported 2,285 clients through their advice service. This sort of number cannot simply be soaked up by other advice organisations in the city.
I’m regularly contacted by constituents experiencing problems with their disability benefits, and have heard some truly awful examples of systems and processes going wrong, of medical information being ignored by DWP decision-makers, and the impact this has on their health, and their ability to cope.
With constituents literally telling me that they “have been too ill to fight for myself” it’s essential that the advice network we have in Brighton and Hove is recognised for what it is, the support it offers, and preventative nature of the work that it does.
I will continue to support Possability People to challenge the funding decision that threatens its advice service. I've written to both the CCG and Brighton and Hove City Council, and remain committed to calling on the Government to properly fund our NHS. I will also be reiterating my concerns to Government Ministers about the damaging impact of its welfare reform agenda, and the ineffective, arduous, and all too often incorrect, current assessment processes that cause so much anxiety and distress to those needing to access support for health reasons.
You can sign the Possability People's petition online here.