Jan 182014
 

Having become aware that there seems to be some confusion about People First groups operating in England Disabled People Against Cuts invited People First (Self Advocacy)’s Director Andrew Lee to set the record straight:

People First (Self Advocacy) is a national, user-led self-advocacy organisation, run for and by people with learning difficulties.  People First has been operating for 27 years.  The constitution says that the number of members of the company is unlimited, and can be individual members – any person with learning difficulties, 18 years or over, and group members, which will be organisations run by people with learning difficulties.  People First has a national membership of 101 self-advocacy group members and 150 individual members; the spread of members is national, covering every region.
The Charity Commission entry for People First states:
Activities
PEOPLE FIRST IS AN ORGANISATION RUN BY AND FOR PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DIFFICULTIES TO RAISE AWARENESS OF AND CAMPAIGN FOR THE RIGHTS OF PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DIFFICULTIES AND TO SUPPORT SELF ADVOCACY GROUPS ACROSS THE COUNTRY.
Where it operates
THROUGHOUT ENGLAND AND WALES

Having set the record straight, some people may say it is easy to say People First is a national organisation, but ask where is the proof?  People First’s response would be the we have a long history of working nationally with groups and individuals, and we would really like to share with you and your readership the detail, depth, quality and impact of our work, both in terms of campaigning with and on behalf of our national membership, and in supporting self-advocacy groups to build their capacity and become strong groups.
This is a summary of our current work:
1. Policy and Campaigning
We are working with a large range of organisations to make change happen for people with learning difficulties on all of the key Government changes affecting our members.  This includes local self-advocacy groups, SCIE, Inclusion London, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, DPAC, ALLFIE, The Mayor’s Office and many other national and Government organisations.  As well as this many other organisations come to People First for advice and support, For example, this week we have carried out some work on behalf of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, to make sure that people with learning difficulties can give their views to the United Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons, about the most important areas for the Government to work on; we worked with York People First and Bristol and South Gloucestershire People First, as well as our national Board of Trustees.  We work with organisations, but as well as this we make sure that we are in touch with our membership and that we are campaigning out on the streets.

2. Cuts Impact Action Now Project
We have also set up the Cuts Impact Action Now Project (CIAN).  The CIAN project, funded by Trust for London, is an evidence collection project looking at what impact both local authority and national cuts and changes are having on people with learning difficulties in Barnet.   This project is a pilot project starting in borough of Barnet.  We are working in partnership with People’s Choice at BCIL.  We are piloting a way of collecting evidence that can then be used in other London Boroughs and nationally.
The reason that we are running this project is because there are lots of national and local changes and cuts happening at the same time.  There has been no research or evidence collected about what impact all of these changes together will have on people with learning difficulties.  We are worried about what this will mean for people and we want to make sure that the voices of people with learning difficulties are heard.  We want to make sure that any cuts or changes do not have an unfair impact on people with learning difficulties.
We want to pilot a way of collecting evidence so that eventually all self-advocacy groups can use this to collect their own local evidence.  We know that cuts and changes are very different in each local authority as a result of the Localism Bill.  This is why a project like this will support local self-advocacy groups to campaign with solid evidence in their local area.  We will also support them to campaign nationally.
3. Supporting Self Advocacy Groups
Our work was very public during the years that we ran the National project and when we were part of the Disability LIB project.  During this project we capacity built 30 organisations.  These organisations were all members of People First (Self Advocacy), but they were not all called People First.  They included Speak Out groups, SHOUT groups as well as other local self-advocacy organisations that had completely different names.  To be a member of People First (Self Advocacy), a group does not need to have the ‘People First’ name.  It just needs to be a self-advocacy organisation run and led by people with learning difficulties.
Since this Big Lottery funding ended, it has been very difficult to get funding for this “second tier” work.  We therefore offer a more low key type of support, such as training, consultancy and research. During the past year we have supported 6 local self-advocacy groups with things such as Management Committee training, consultancy on the future of organisations, fundraising and support with other issues that groups have been having.
4. Advocacy Signposting and Advice
We offer a telephone service to all people with learning difficulties and their carers and supporters.  With all of the cuts to advocacy services and support services happening many people that are going through very difficult issues do not have anyone to turn to.  We offer this service so that anyone going through an issue can come to us and we will support them to get the information and support that they need to move forward.  People have come to us with issues around debt, benefits, getting support, getting advocates, problems with local authorities, hate crime and many other areas.  For this project we have been included on the SCIE Find Me Good Care website, as an organisation offering support and advice to people with learning difficulties, their carers and supporters.  We use our core funds to cover this work.

5. Easy Read
We have a long term campaign of making Easy Read more well-known and better used.  With the support of the Facilitation Fund from the Office for Disability Issues we putting together a service to make sure that there are no excuses for not using Easy Read.  This is so that anyone can have the tools they need to put something into Easy Read.  We have already put together Easy Read training and we are now using the fund to design a new and improved Easy Read Picture bank.  We also provide an Easy Read translation service for a range of Government, local authority, and voluntary sector organisations.
In Conclusion
With the change in the political climate, and funding priorities, like many charities we have had to review our position and develop new strategies and plans.  Our new BIG PICTURE approach to how we move forward is that all the work we are now doing could be described as taking a strategic approach, that is not just being out there strutting our stuff, but putting plans in place to make sure:
The work we do takes into account the need for major structural change, that means in the way systems and policies work at a local and national level, which will make a real difference to the lives of people with learning difficulties
The work we do takes into account the Localism Bill, and will put information, power and control back into the hands and voices of local people with learning difficulties
The work we do has a major impact to benefit the lives of people with learning difficulties who are often excluded from the debate and that’s why our organisation has led the Self Advocacy Movement for 27 years.

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