Dominic Campbell February 28, 2012

Catching up on #benefitscamp: ideas update

Dominic Campbell

This post is by Lucy Watt and is also posted over on FutureGov‘s site.

A few weeks have passed now since people joined us and our partners, Enabled by Design and MarkThree Media, in the Hub Westminster - and virtually through the powers of the web (live streaming, social media and Skype) – to take part in Benefits Camp. So we felt it was time to update you on the ideas that were developed on the day and how they have progressed since.

Benefits Camp from markthree media on Vimeo.

Benefits Camp was a one day event bringing together a diverse range of people to draw up ideas for how the benefits system itself, or life for people on benefits more broadly, could be improved. We arranged the event at crazy short notice (12 days!) and went to every length to ensure we could involve participants who know first hand what life in the benefits system is like. Everyone who came along were motivated to do something by the huge public reaction to the changes to the benefits system contained within the Welfare Reform Bill, aware that there is plenty of room left to innovate.

The idea of Benefits Camp was not to focus on getting angry about the immediate challenges relating to upcoming changes in the system. Much of the changes have either happened already or are not long coming and many are already mobilising to make their feelings known on that front. Instead, we wanted Benefits Camp to take a pragmatic approach to getting people together to design the solutions to the things that they are angry about, things that they think really need changing. But for pragmatic, do not read boring. No limits were places on the ideas that groups could develop at the event and everything from radical re-designs to little tweaks of the system were encouraged.

The day opened with thought provoking talks from Stefan Czerniawski (@pubstrat), Customer and Service Design Manager (Universal Credit) at the Department of Work and Pensions and Paul Miller  (@rellimluap), co-founder of the School of Everything, Social Innovation Camp and Bethnal Green Ventures.

Stefan shared his experience of attempts to simplify the welfare benefits system by introducing the Universal Credit. He spoke of how every modification to means tested benefits and eligibility criteria created a complicated system, full of barnacles and lobster pots (in his words), that was more difficult for people to understand.  Stefan has big ambitions to improve the current system: ”Universal Credit in particularly is the biggest opportunity in a generation to try to make it [the benefits system] work better, more effectively that it has up until now.” But he also made it clear that Universal Credit will not hold all of the answers: “What would be even smarter would be to work out how some of the inherent problems in trying to make it work really, really well can be avoided by something really radical and different. In a way that isn’t this big machine pumping out billions of pounds in tiny tiny fragments that leaves people just about as unhappy as they were.” You can see the recording of Stefan’s talk here: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/20188542

Paul Miller then used his experience as a leading social innovator to frame the thinking for the day. Paul’s main suggestions for thinking differently about the system were: 1) Think about different financial models; 2) Think about how this could work without Government; and 3) Think practically. You can read Paul’s thoughts in full over on his blog.


Photo: Murtz Abidi

Kicking off the doing of the day, everyone who came along to Benefits Camp was then asked to share their ideas for solutions on post-it notes (or via the web) and these were then grouped into themes. These themes were shared on the FutureGov site so that people participating in the day from around the country could also join in.

The groups then came together to start work, each camper selecting one idea they were interested in helping to develop further. I started off facilitating a group with just one other person in the room, but was shortly joined by a host of others via Skype from locations as far afield as the Isle of Wight, Cardiff, Newcastle and Leeds, many of who had health issues that prevented them from attended the event in person.

After a few hours of scoping and designing our ideas, we presented them back to the wider group. You can see some of the presentations on the video recordings of the live streaming from the day.

1. The money saving and sharing group developed into Share to Save.

This group wanted to help people on benefits plan for times when they might need to spend more money than usual, for example when they need new clothes for a new job. The team devised a solution whereby people on benefits would pay a small proportion of their benefit each week into an insurance type scheme that would pay out when they most needed it. This insurance product would be an incentive based support mechanism for times of transition and positive change.  It would create an on/offline community like a credit union around the insurance product, incentivised by:

  • Discounts / Offers with companies
  • Group buying, savings opportunities
  • Micro pay-outs on completion of targets (positive change or enablement)

This idea has not yet progressed since Benefit Camp, but if you’re interested in helping the team take it further, please contact donagh [at] wearefuturegov [dot] com

2. The personal data theme was not taken on by any group.

3. The local impact theme developed into Our Local Investment.

This team designed an idea for getting local organisations to work together better to share resources and to make sure that people who are living on very low incomes get the best support possible as a result of this collaborative working. Some of team behind this idea, which included Kevin Lloyd (Mountgrove Associates, formerly of Islington Council / DCLG / Capital Ambition), John Hitchin from Renaisi, Chrissy Wood from Homes for Islington, Eliana Martella and Kieron Kirkland from the Nominet Trust, have already taken this idea further through a meeting with Islington grant giving charity, the Cripplegate Foundation, and through drafting a strategy paper.

Please contact Kevin Lloyd - kevin.lloyd [at] blueyonder.co.uk if you would like to get involved.

4. The better communication / information theme became startsomewhere.com

Startsomewhere.com is a site that lets people find the right journey through the benefits system through anecdotal accounts from other people who have been in similar situations. Direct links within their stories take you to the relevant organisations, forms or support networks, while providing tips and advice on what worked or didn’t work for them. It is aimed at people who are entering the benefits system for the first time.

This idea has not developed since Benefits Camp, but if you are interested in taking it further, please contact any of the team members: Alison Smith, Yogesh Taylor, Tim Abbott, Adam Dustagheer, Nathalie McDermott and Rachel Karasik.

5. The collaboration and peer to peer support theme was integrated into other ideas, such as 4 and 6.

6. The skills and volunteering theme became Community Heroes

Community Heroes is an idea for a charitable organisation that offers helps young people from low income families access internships and similar opportunities.  The charity would help young people identify what they want to do and then help them get there by supporting them to secure funding to help them get the experience that they need. The charity would help the young people create a video CV, including details of what they need money for. The charity would then work with the young people to promote these videos to people who may be able to sponsor them to do volunteering one day a week, offer them a paid internship or even offer funding to help them start a social enterprise.

Contact: Ruth Hayes, Islington Law Centre, ruthh [at] islingtonlaw.org.uk

7. The Jobs, flexible working and enterprise developed into Work Benefit Balance.

This group (the mainly virtual, online group that I was facilitating over Skype) was looking at how to solve the problem of people with fluctuating health conditions finding it difficult to do occasional freelance or temporary work without losing, or significantly disrupting the administration of, their benefits. A number of the team members claim health related benefits and had first hand experience of this problem. Work Benefit Balance is a simple online application that allows benefit claimants to easily declare any short term work on a self assessment basis, on a similar trust basis as self assessment tax returns, but without the complex questions. The team virtual team worked well together: Lisa Ellword started to design the site for the project, Janet Davis produced the design for the application as slides for the presentation on Googledocs and Nancy Farrell wrote this blog explaining the process that we had gone through to create this idea. Then Lisa Egan and I presented the idea to everyone in the Hub Westminster.

Related blogs from other members of the team inlude: ClaireOT and The Creative Crip number one and two. Do get in touch with any of us if you’d like to help us develop this idea further.

8. The better admin group developed an idea for the Quick and Easy Entitlement App.

This team was working to solve the problem of people often being confused about or unaware of their benefit entitlements. As described by Jon Foster in his blog post, by answering just five simple questions a person should quickly be able to get an idea of whether they can claim benefits, and if so, roughly how much they will get. James Cattell, formerly of Birmingham City Council, has been working on a more advanced benefits calculator, and talks about his work here.

Please contact James or Jon if you would like to help them develop their work further.

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James Cattell has also established a Yammer (like a private Twitter) for people involved in Benefits Camp. The conversation on the page has ranged from people discussing how to take their ideas further, to sharing useful links (such as for crowd-funding and affordable credit) and interesting related stories. Please do contact us if you would like to join the group and carry on the conversation.

If you were a member of a group and you have more progress to report, please do let us know, as we will be meeting with Nominet soon and they may be able to offer financial support to develop some of these ideas further.

The photographs of the day can be seen on this Flickr group.

For more information contact lucy [at] wearefuturegov [dot] com