Monday 22nd September 2014
Mac Voice, the magazine for Macmillan professionals: Autumn 2014
Glenn Dawson is a Macmillan Advice Worker at Wythenshawe Hospital, South Manchester. He has been in his post since 2006
What does your role involve?
Primarily, my role is to help people affected by cancer access benefits and other financial support. I also help provide generalist advice and help with debts (often getting certain debts written off for clients). The role is quite diverse. I have many hats – benefits adviser, counsellor, travel agent and sometimes even marriage adviser, to name but a few. I also help people who are bereaved. I work with the Macmillan team based at Wythenshawe Hospital and also as part of a small team of Macmillan advisers covering the Manchester area.
What is your professional background?
I served in the armed forces for thirteen years and then worked in a printing factory for ten years. Eventually I stopped manual work due to ill health and joined my local Citizens Advice Bureau as a volunteer. I discovered I really enjoyed advice work. I was eventually employed by Bradford Cancer Support. My next post was with Citizens Advice, providing generalist advice in GP surgeries in Stoke-on-Trent. After that, I went on to join the then newly-formed Macmillan benefits helpline in Bradford, before coming to my current role in 2006.
When did you start working with people affected by cancer?
I’ve worked with people affected by cancer since 2001. I have also had personal cancer experiences. My wife died from cancer in 2011. At that time I stopped working due to bereavement for around two months. Strangely, my very first client when I returned to work was a man who was distraught because his wife was dying from the very same type of cancer as my wife. My best friend also died of lung cancer, aged 36, while I was working for Bradford Cancer Support. My mum also has cancer of the ovary and bladder. I think my own personal cancer experiences have helped me to pass on knowledge that I have gained and to empathise with people.
How much money have you helped people to access?
This year I reached the personal milestone of unlocking £11 million in benefits and financial help for people affected by cancer. I put this achievement down to working hard and getting on with the job. In some ways, I am quite mercenary in unlocking money from the government or charities. If it’s possible to extract money that will help someone affected by cancer who is struggling, I will always aim to get those funds for them – if they are entitled, I will get it for them. I hope one day if I’m in that situation, somebody would do the same for me.
How do people find out about your service?
Some people find us through the Macmillan website. A lot of referrals come from health professionals working in the hospital or the Macmillan information centre staff. There’s also word of mouth, as patients at the hospital tell each other about services. I go out on the wards quite regularly and speak with people; they don't always have the forms or information necessary at the time, but it's a good first point of contact and a way of letting people know we're here.
What kind of challenges do people face when accessing benefits?
Many people are daunted by the language used and the complexity of the benefits system, particularly elderly people. One couple I helped were in their 80s. The wife was diagnosed with cancer. She gave me all the details and I realised they were entitled to substantial unpaid money in benefits. She contacted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) who told her she was getting everything she was entitled to. Initially she didn’t want to take it any further, as she assumed the DWP must be right. But I asked her to send me their letter so I could follow it up. When I looked into their situation, it transpired the couple had been entitled to extra income-based benefits for the past seven years. I eventually helped them to access £34,000 backdated arrears and increase their weekly benefit by an extra £169 per week. The couple were gobsmacked! It shows that mistakes happen and that it’s worth investigating people’s entitlement with a simple benefit check. I also secured a further £4,000 for them by seeking compensation from the DWP.
What’s most rewarding about your work?
I feel a sense of achievement that I am in a position to help people who are confused about what financial help is available to them. It’s humbling to attend Macmillan talks where people tell us our service has had such an impact on their lives. This is also shown by the feedback letters and thank you cards I receive.