PCS cutting through the DWP spin on Universal Credit

The DWP has published a series of articles, and launched a website, to try to put a positive spin on the hugely contentious benefit Universal Credit, in response we are exposing the massive problems with a system that we say needs to be scrapped and replaced.

The department’s positive PR strategy began last month with a series of articles which purportedly “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC” at a cost to the taxpayer reported to be in excess of £250,000.

UC has been beset with serious and wide-ranging problems since its inception. The roll-out timetable has been pushed back several times, with the entire programme having to be reset in early 2013. The independent National Audit Office judges that UC has neither saved public money nor helped people into work. But it has left thousands of vulnerable claimants penniless, while others are forced to turn to foodbanks to survive and even lose their homes.

Research produced for the children’s commissioner shows the government’s welfare reforms will double the number of children in poverty in some areas and mean half of low-income families will lose thousands of pounds a year.

The number of children living in families that have a monthly deficit will double in some areas, because of the combined impact of Universal Credit, a two-child limit on some welfare payments and the benefits cap.

The research, produced for the children’s commissioner, found that a quarter of children in its sample would be hit by the measures. Almost half of low-income households examined were affected, losing on average £3,441 a year.

Highly critical

The well-respected parliamentary public accounts committee (PAC) has been highly critical of UC’s introduction. The committee of MPs says that the benefit is causing unacceptable hardship and difficulties for many of the claimants it was designed to help.

It says that while the department is responsive to feedback on its digital systems from staff, it has persistently dismissed evidence that Universal Credit is causing hardship for claimants and additional burdens for local organisations, and refuses to measure what it does not want to see.

In 2013, the committee raised concerns about the department’s culture of reporting good news and denying problems that emerge. In further reports in 2015 and 2016 the committee warned about the department’s continued lack of transparency.

The committee’s latest report in October concluded that:

  • DWP's dismissive attitude to real-world experience is failing claimants
  • Recent announcement of delayed roll-out is not a solution
  • The department must work with third-party organisations to shape programme.

Turning a deaf ear

PAC chair Meg Hillier has criticised the department’s “apparent determination to turn a deaf ear to the concerns of claimants, frontline organisations and parliament”. She said the culture needs to change.

“A department in denial cannot learn from its mistakes and take the action necessary to address the desperate hardship suffered by many Universal Credit claimants,” she said.

“DWP’s dismissive attitude points to a troubling pattern of behaviour in the department. As a priority the department must demonstrate a tangible shift in the way it listens and responds to feedback and evidence.”

Opposing huge cuts

PCS continues to oppose the huge cuts to the overall welfare budget made by the current and previous government and believe that without investment, both in our social security system, and in the staff who deliver it, the serious problems being faced by both our members and those using the system will worsen.

We have consistently made representations to DWP about the level of stress existing across Universal Credit Service Centres and, increasingly now, in the jobcentres, where staff are also being used to clear UC tasks. Despite this, DWP has refused to work with PCS.

We have fundamental concerns with the UC system and believe that without resolution, the system will fail the most vulnerable in our society and have a significant detrimental impact on UC claimants and their dependents.

In a series of articles and social media posts we will cut through the expensive spin that the DWP is trying to put on Universal Credit and also highlight the experiences of the people on the frontline who are trying to deliver it.

Setting out our vision

Our pamphlet Social security the case for radical change makes the case for a radical overhaul of the social security system, drawing on the expertise of staff to restore the principles of Beveridge, updated to fit the 21st century. 

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