The NRAS Blog

Friday, 5 April 2013

'Hello: Life as a Government Affairs Officer' by Leo Watson

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

Friday, 22 March 2013

'Farewell Blog' from Sarah Kate

Hi all

I’m afraid to say this is the very last blog I’ll be writing as part of the NRAS team as today is my last day here on the helpline. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work here and speak to so many of you on the phone but life and love are moving me in other directions.

Since starting (for the second time!) with NRAS I have been involved in all sort of things from fun, cake-fuelled fundraising events to educational training sessions and helping out at group launches. I have learnt an awful lot from my colleagues here on the helpline team and been involved in reviewing and updating the information we produce as well as writing short pieces for the NRAS magazine and, most recently, conducting a piece of research into the use of social media with Ruth our Digital Media Coordinator. But, most importantly, I have tried my best to answer all manner of questions from you guys on the phone, by email and from the Health Unlocked community.

I will leave with one of my favourite memories of NRAS being the 10k run last year. Unfortunately the scheduled event was cancelled due to bad weather but this wasn’t enough to deter the team of (mostly coerced!) runners from NRAS. So, dressed in our very fetching ‘Village People’ themed outfits (complete with false moustaches) we ran a long, hot 8 laps around the business park, much to the amusement of the on-looking offices, and raised over £300 for NRAS!

I will miss everyone here but I will be excited to watch the progress of NRAS from afar as they expand further and get involved in yet more projects, including hopefully providing a service for those with juvenile forms of arthritis in the near future.

I hope you all have a lovely Easter.

Kind regards

Sarah Kate
NRAS Helpline Co-ordinator

Friday, 15 March 2013

'How Time Flies...' by Kim Fitchett

I can’t quite believe that the last time I wrote my blog I had only been here three short weeks; I sit here today having just completed my 7th month at NRAS. And what a busy 7 months it’s been!

In October of last year, only two short months after I started here, I came up against a huge learning curve when my supervisor and mentor since joining (Maimie) sadly had to leave NRAS. Having only worked at one job before this, even though for a long while, I didn’t see myself as having too much experience other than in the office admin world so coming into this job where there was so much scope for learning and growing, I really depended on Maimie in those first few months for support and guidance. It wasn’t until late November that we found a replacement for her, so I had a couple of months to try and fill some very big shoes and put all I had learned into practice! I will never regret having those few months as I feel like (and I hope my manager Clare would agree!) I held the fort fairly well and got so much out of jumping in with both feet! As quite a shy and most of the time a self doubting person, I felt like this was a huge step for me, it taught me to have more confidence and to remember that if you put your mind to something, you can be successful.

Moving on from self indulgence... I have seen and been part of the launch of four NRAS groups – Bath in September, West Dorset in October, North Hampshire and Winchester only last week and Cambridge just last night! I have been to my first member’s day that was held in October last year. We welcomed a new member of the Volunteer Network team to NRAS who is now my trusty sidekick, Gill (she wrote her first blog a few weeks back...) and have since been in planning for many exciting upcoming events for 2013.

As you will see from above it’s a busy time for our NRAS groups with four launching in the last 6 months and we have another two in the pipeline to launch by the beginning of July. Wrexham area NRAS group (North Wales) will be launching on Tuesday 16th April held at the Catrin Finch Centre on the Glyndwr University Plas Coch Campus, full details can be found here: and we have just confirmed the date of the Frimley/Sandhurst area NRAS Group launch for Wednesday 3rd July – full details for this launch will come out as soon as we have everything confirmed, so keep a check on the website!

We also have an information evening in Redditch taking place on Thursday 21st March, full details can be found here:
The first group meeting of West Dorset on Thursday 28th March, full details can be found here:
and finally the first group meeting of Bath & West Wiltshire on Wednesday 10th April, full details can be found here:
We have much planning in the pipeline for more new group launches this year, so keep a look out on here and our website during the year to see what is going on in your area!

Just want to add that a very nervous Gill presented for the first time at the group launch in Basingstoke last Wednesday and not to a small crowd with the room filling to over 100 people. She did an amazing job, so well done to her :-) Onwards and upwards!

Have a lovely weekend everyone.

Kim Fitchett
Volunteer Network Coordinator