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Nick Clarke spent his career working for voluntary sector organisations in law, international development and adult care. He initially took on the role of fee-paid disability member while working part-time on quality improvement work in the care sector. He now sits for the Social Entitlement Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal alongside other interests and voluntary work including practising meditation and acting as a mediator in neighbour disputes.
“I feel very privileged to sit on the side of the table that I do in the hearing room. As a disabled person I have some understanding of it how feels to have otherwise private aspects of daily life made public because help or special equipment is needed. I also have some understanding of how disability can impact on so many aspects of life and identity, beyond what may be most visible.
“In the tribunal I try to remember how strange and potentially distressing and embarrassing it is to have to talk to 3 strangers about the personal details of one's life. We are dealing with people from very different backgrounds, cultures and with very different life skills and it goes without saying that no two cases are alike.
“Before a hearing begins the panel discusses the evidence that we have all read in advance and based on that decide what areas we need to explore. At the hearing the disability and medical members ask most of the questions about how people get around and manage their personal care and social situations.
“Where possible, and generally without great difficulty, the panel are able to reach agreed decisions. On occasion there will be differences of opinion and it is always helpful to understand what evidence or knowledge underpins the views of members with a different view. The expertise of other members is invaluable in testing ones’ own view.
“I find the work is intense, and feel it is an important responsibility. As well as providing a financial benefit that addresses the additional costs of living with a disability, receiving the benefit can also feel like a validation of the difficulties people face. Our decisions therefore can have a considerable impact on individuals and their families.”