Creating a new Benefits Calculator: my experience

Emma Jane began working with Turn2us across a number of projects in 2019, and tells her experience redesigning the Benefits Calculator for Co-production Week 2021

This article is 35 months old


"Are you getting all the benefits you're entitled to?" asked the advert. "Of course, I am" replied my left brain. After all, I have been involved with the benefit system ever since Mobility Allowance was introduced way back in the 1970s. "But are you sure?" asked my right brain. Well, I thought I was, surely someone would have said if there was any other help I might be able to get. But since it only takes 10 minutes I might as well just check. 

I couldn't believe it when the Benefits Calculator said I was entitled to Universal Credit, but I went ahead and applied anyway, still not really believing it, and it was true! That's where my involvement with Turn2us began.

I joined the website, looked about a little, and discovered that the Benefits Calculator I had used so successfully was about to be updated. Turn2us were looking for people with experience of the benefits system to help steer the project. Since the calculator had been so helpful to me, I felt that this would be a good way to "give something back". After all, I was certainly well qualified!

So it was that, after a few emails and a chat on the phone, I headed up to the Turn2us office in Hammersmith in the last days of 2019 for the first meeting of what became the Turn2us Benefits Calculator User Panel, made up of lived experts. Our group was charged with suggesting what an updated version of the calculator should do, how it could be improved and even what it should look like.

I must admit that I was extremely nervous at that first meeting, after all I hadn't been in an office environment for quite a few years. What if my brain wouldn't work properly, or everyone else was smarter than me?  As it turned out I needn't have worried. Everyone was very nice and I made some good friends there. The tasks we were set were all made very clear, and there was a lot of constructive discussion. 

That was the first of a series of similar meetings, each time getting a little further, over the course of a year, but little did we know that sadly the terrible global pandemic would soon mean that everything transferred online. This was a nightmare at first for a technical novice like myself but I very soon got the hang of it, and I have gained some very useful skills as a result.

Our little group then met regularly until just recently when the Benefits Calculator 2 was officially launched and is now live on the Turn2us website. 

Throughout this time I have been involved with Turn2us in other ways too - I undertook training in co-production as part of another group, have been interviewed on the subject of the use of personal data, I recently took part in a panel on the subject of “what does it mean to thrive” which will hopefully inform public policy on benefits in the future, and I took part in a discussion for last year's Co-production Week. I am currently also involved in a project to build a network for co-production partners.

I have found my work with Turn2us to be immensely beneficial, from meeting new people and increasing my confidence, to making a contribution which I am sure will benefit society as a whole. I would thoroughly recommend this kind of volunteering to anyone.

If you have experience of financial difficulties and would like to get involved in shaping Turn2us's work, visit our co-production page.