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University’s pioneering Welfare and Benefits Advice course helps to transform lives

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Pioneering University of Stirling students on the UK’s first Macmillan Cancer Support Welfare and Benefits course say they are transforming lives thanks to knowledge gained during their studies.

The 22 students, who will be presented with a Graduate Certificate (Welfare and Benefits Advice) at their graduation on June 27, have given positive feedback about how the 18 month, learn-on-the-job course has helped change the way they work.

With cancer statistics projected to rise by eight per cent in the future and a myriad of welfare reforms afoot, there has never been a greater need for welfare and benefits advocacy in this sector.

The course aims to significantly improve the quality of information, advice and support offered to people affected by long term conditions such as cancer. It also strives to enhance the training available to help welfare rights officers, money advisors and other voluntary support staff, achieve a better understanding of the issues surrounding progressive illnesses, bereavement, employability and disability discrimination.

The course, funded by Macmillan Cancer Support, is a collaboration between the charity, the Scottish Government and the University’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, in response to the Government’s Better Cancer Care Action Plan 2008. This initiative identified “the need for further action to support people to meet the forward challenges they face in living with and beyond cancer”.

University and Macmillan Lecturer Dr Nicola Cunningham, said: “The course is really unique. Other advice skills courses are on offer but this is the first in the UK to focus learning around the experiences of people affected by cancer and long term conditions. Interest is very high and we are attracting students from all over the Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  

“The knowledge students have gained is making a big difference in practice and the way clients are being helped on a daily basis is being transformed. The course gives the students a much bigger picture about the role they can offer.”

Dr Cunningham, who has a cancer care background and has previously worked as a sociology lecturer, said the University is a perfect host for the course, due to the proximity of the Cancer Care Research Centre on campus and the “huge range of expertise in sociology and clinical care” within the University.

She added: “This course teaches the students that their role is about extending the ideas, information and knowledge they have and recognising that their clients need this additional support. A little bit of knowledge can give a huge amount of awareness and change people’s lives. This course gives students the confidence and pride in doing that on a daily basis.”

Macmillan Welfare Benefits Advisor Deborah Connell has nearly 20 years of experience in the care sector and decided to undertake the Graduate Certificate in Welfare and Benefits Advice with support from her employer, Clatterbridge Cancer Research. Deborah highly recommends the course for anyone looking to improve their professional practice.

She said: “This course is very good recognition that you have gained thorough knowledge. I would definitely recommend it as a benchmark.

“It has made me more effective by encouraging me to see things through the patient’s eyes and reflect more. There is an emphasis on considering the psychological impact of the patient’s condition and how that can affect a patient’s identity. We are also there to help people negotiate the barriers to claiming benefits and help them to know there is life beyond cancer.”

She added: “Benefits changes coming into force are going to have a huge impact and I have a greater understanding of this now. The course gives you a brilliant context of where welfare reform sits in political and historical terms and how that fits in with the current political landscape. We emerge with a much more rounded view.”

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