Expectations vs. Reality
Last autumn, if you’d asked me what an advocate did, I would most likely have mumbled something about legal roles, court, and possibly mental health capacity, but without any real clarity as to what that meant. Fast forward to nine months later, and I am privileged to have been an advocate for over 150 people from all over Lancashire as they navigate the benefits system.
For each of these people, I have been the person who came alongside them at a time when they needed support. I have explained what to expect at benefit assessments and made sure they had the information they needed to engage in the process. I also have been the person who checked in on their wellbeing and supported them to make a plan for just in case things didn’t go as hoped at a tribunal. I’ve listened to their stories and made sure that some of the most vulnerable people in our society can speak up about what their daily lives are like. I have put into writing the daily struggles that people battle just to take care of their basic needs.
I thought that working as an advocate would give me a sense of purpose and satisfaction about how I spent my working time. I hoped that I would be able to live out some of my values day to day – treating everyone as a human being who has value and worth just by being who they are; putting the skills I have into supporting another person; taking the time to understand what matters to someone.
But I didn’t foresee that it would make me indignant about the injustices that exist all around us. I didn’t imagine that I’d leave a client meeting, get in my car feeling so incredibly saddened and frustrated to the point of tears by the situation of my client having been worsened by inaccuracies and mistakes. I didn’t imagine that I’d need to talk to other professionals about my concerns over a person’s suicide plans. I didn’t foresee quite how annoyed I would become by news stories and other people’s stereotyped views on those who need to claim benefits.
A Good Advocate
You see, something which makes a good advocate is the ability to understand and empathise with someone else’s situation – to put yourself into their frame of reference so that you can better help them to explain what that’s like. But that has to be tempered with a secure sense of self and the use of supervision – talking things through with a more experienced colleague.
Being an advocate is, without a doubt, one of the most deeply satisfying roles I have had. I’ve developed a deeper awareness of the blessings in my own life, and I feel incredibly grateful that I don’t have to make the impossible choices that some of my clients must. I know that the work I do matters and has a far wider impact than the individual I’m supporting – as they are empowered to take steps to improve their circumstances, their families and friends are positively impacted as well.