Changemakers: the group of women at Working Chance campaigning for change to the benefits system
At Working Chance, we know the transformative power that lived experience can have. Every day, we see women with convictions take control of their own futures. Many of these women want to do something to make the world a better place for other women like them, but as it stands, they don't always get the chance.
That’s why we’re excited to introduce Changemakers.
What is Changemakers?
Changemakers is a first-of-its-kind policy group of women with convictions driving the changes they want to see, set up by Working Chance. Together, the group is reimagining a benefits system that would support the efforts of women with convictions to rebuild their lives.
We need more direct lines for women with convictions to influence policymakers about the challenges they face. Members of Changemakers will gain the tools and skills they need to carry out influencing work, including a programme of training in campaign and advocacy skills. Together, they are campaigning for a reimagined Universal Credit that serves women with convictions. The group will also inform and guide Working Chance’s own policy and research projects.
‘Nothing about us without us'
Lived experience campaigning is the most powerful way to shift power dynamics, ensure that decision makers hear different perspectives, and change their perceptions. These steps are the building blocks of changemaking.
The best policies are developed with the input and consultation of people who will be affected by that policy. Until you consult members of a certain group, it’s impossible to know exactly how a policy might affect individuals or their community.
The voices of women with lived experience of the criminal justice system are too often ignored or overlooked. Changemakers enables women with convictions to use their unique expertise and insights to drive the changes they want to see and improve the lives of other women with convictions.
‘The government should engage in open dialogue with women with lived experience, to guide positive and meaningful reform.'
'We know what it’s like first hand to have a conviction. We’ve experienced the negativity, the judgements, and everything that’s gone with that. That’s why I wanted to be in this group. I don’t think you can understand the impact a conviction has without living through it,' Sonja, one of the Changemakers, said.
Universal Credit can do better
In 2021, for their pilot project, the Changemakers are tackling Universal Credit.
Universal Credit is the benefits system being rolled out across the UK. By 2024, it will have replaced out of work benefits, housing benefits, and tax credits.
Going through the process of Universal Credit is an experience many women with convictions share, whether they have spent time in prison, served a sentence in the community, or received a caution.
More than half of people on Universal Credit are women, yet the system isn’t working well enough for women to keep their heads above water, let alone find work. Shockingly, the government plans to cut Universal Credit by £20 a week, the biggest overnight cut to social security since World War Two.
Currently, there is an unavoidable five-week wait for the first payment. Women leaving prison can’t start a claim for Universal Credit before release, practically guaranteeing that they will fall into poverty or debt. The monthly payments fail to cover basic life costs and deductions can be unpredictable and crippling. When you are rebuilding your life after a conviction, these problems with benefits can only make life harder, putting women at increased risk of reoffending.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
‘I believe women with convictions can change the system.'
A better benefits system is possible. If Universal Credit was made available to women when they were most in need, provided enough money to get by, and was accompanied by support services, then every woman could count on it to keep them in a strong enough position to look for and find a job.
This is why Changemakers is so badly needed – the system simply will not improve unless we fight for it.
Changemakers will be fighting against the £20 cut, and will keep proposing solutions to the problems with Universal Credit faced by women with convictions. Universal Credit should be strong enough for all women when they need a lifeline.
We have a lot in store, so follow us to keep up with Changemakers.
If you want to collaborate with Changemakers, or find out more about the group, get in touch with our Policy and Research Officer, Olivia at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07985 475 493.
The Changemakers project is made possible through the kind support of the Lloyds Bank Foundation.