This week, we are chatting to Keith, who is our Service Team Manager
What led you to Disability North, and how long have you been here?
I have been involved in advice work for over 20 years. This started with working as a volunteer for Citizens Advice, which led me to completing a degree in Social Policy. Following my degree I took up full time employment in advice work, managing a team of welfare benefit advisors to support people who qualified for legal aid. I then worked as Operations Manager for Citizens Advice in Morpeth, which involved managing staff and volunteers to support people with a variety of issues including housing, debt, welfare benefits and consumer problems. This work was very rewarding and also helped to expand my knowledge of different areas of advice work. It also made me realise that I missed the day-to-day involvement of dealing with client cases and the specialist welfare benefits work I had previously been involved in. This led me to Disability North, and the opportunity to work closely with service users and the dedicated staff members I manage in the Service Team.
I have worked at Disability North for 8 years.
Can you describe an average day?
Each day can vary and this is one of the things I really enjoy about the job. Most days I will spend part of my time with booked appointments. This can involve helping people with disability benefit applications, providing representation at welfare benefit tribunals or conducting training sessions. I also try to keep part of my day free to deal with new calls and spend time with the Service Team to discuss ongoing cases. I will often get involved in taking initial information from new service users and making sure they get help from the appropriate services. My team specialises in support for welfare benefits and disability equipment, but can also assist with information on disability grants and online applications for a Blue Badge. We also try to find support from external organisations for areas we do not specialise in, for example housing problems or questions about employment law.
What’s your favourite thing about your job?
I know it is a bit of a cliché, but I genuinely enjoy working in a job where I feel that I can make a real positive difference to the lives of other people. It is a privilege to work for an organisation that has like-minded staff all working together to help and support disabled people in the north east. It is also very rewarding spending time with our service users and helping them to navigate the many challenges of dealing with the benefit system or getting equipment to assist with their daily needs.
What would make your job easier?
There is a huge demand for help and support for disability benefits advice, but a lack of available funding has made providing advice very challenging. Unfortunately, this situation has only got worse in the years that I have been doing welfare benefits work. Legal aid is no longer available for almost all areas of the welfare benefits and it is very difficult to get any funding to cover service costs. If there was more funding available we would be in a position to assist more people, and this would help them to remain more independent and reduce the reliance on statutory services such as the NHS and social services.
What do you wish people knew about the people you work with?
I think many people would benefit from a better appreciation and understanding of the many barriers and challenges having a disability can bring. These challenges can be employment opportunities, access to equipment and resources, difficulty navigating poorly designed building and the additional financial costs of living with a disability. Also, to understand how resilient and resourceful disabled people can be in dealing with these challenges and, where possible, to allow and encourage them to play an active role in any solutions.
Thanks to Keith for responding to our questions! If you need any support from us, please call 0191 284 0480