How does Advocacy help?

By Sam Jackson 

Imagine going into an important meeting. You have done your best to prepare, made notes of the things you need to say, made sure you know where and when the meeting is being held. You know that a decision that could change your life is going to be made at this meeting. But when you get in there are 10 other people sat around the table – they have also got all their files and notes, they have suits or uniforms on – one of them is chairing the meeting and gets to decide who speaks and when. One of the people at the meeting has notes about you – all the times you have made mistakes when you thought you could decide something for yourself. Another one has spreadsheets that show how much money would have to be spent if the meeting decided you could do what you are asking to do. If you try and say that this isn’t fair one of them has copies of the legislation that shows that it is ‘the law’ that says they don’t have to do what you are asking. It feels like it is 1 against 10.

If all an advocate can do is make it 2 against 10, be sat with you in that meeting and ask for a break when you get upset – that is something. We shouldn’t underestimate how important it can be just to know it is not one person on their own. But an advocate can also prepare you for how the meeting is going to be – they may have asked that not all 10 people need to be there – so now it isn’t 10 v 2 but 5 v 2! They can help you to ask for your medical notes beforehand – so there isn’t going to be anything said that will come as a surprise – you will be able to explain how and why things happened in the past, maybe the notes are wrong, or not relevant, or you have changed since they were made.

An advocate may know that some of the things that you are being told are ‘the law’ are not as straightforward as they are making out. Or that you don’t have to agree with them and can ask for a court to look at the question. It may be that the same ‘law’ also says that it doesn’t matter how much something costs if it is something that you need or would break another law if you didn’t get it.

The advocate can make sure that the person chairing the meeting makes time for you: to say what you want; ask the questions you want to ask; to have your voice heard.

Maybe the meeting still decides something you’re not happy with. But they had to listen to you – when you get the minutes you can look at them with the advocate and check that they are accurate, you might see that they are evidence that a bad or wrong decision was made that can be challenged.

Or maybe you have been able to agree, when you’ve talked about your options with the advocate, that there was a compromise that could be made, that the person with the spreadsheet could see would not cost as much as ignoring your opinions.

Sometimes – having really heard what you have been trying to say - the people at the meeting agree with you.

Whatever happens, you weren’t on your own, you can know that you gave it your best shot. And the next time a decision has to be made you can hope that the people who were at the meeting will know that they can’t ignore the person affected by it.