As the main union representing DWP workers, among other civil servants, PCS draws on the perspective of workers and those using Universal Credit in our critique on the effectiveness of the programme. Our union has had serious concerns from the outset on the development, implementation and effect of the government’s Universal Credit programme (UC).
Our members are on the frontline, and are suffering as a result of the government’s chaotic welfare ‘reforms’, staff cuts and office closure programme. Our members see first-hand the devastating effect government policies have on the most vulnerable in our society, yet their voices and concerns are too often ignored by the Tory government.
PCS asked for the roll-out of UC to be suspended in October and serious issues addressed, including the issue of the in-built six-week delay for first payment. We oppose the cuts to the system that means UC will be almost £3 billion a year less generous than the system it replaces. The funding announced in the budget will do little to address this.
As a result of pressure from PCS and other organisations, such as Citizens Advice, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced some significant reforms to the roll-out to UC including changes to the waiting period and the slow-down of the roll-out.
PCS policy on UC is part of an overall alternative vision of social security, decided on through a democratic process engaging all our members and voted on by elected representatives at our annual delegate conference.
Universal Credit a disaster
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka has said about Universal Credit: “Universal Credit remains a disaster because it is driven by the Tories’ political choice to cut public spending and to denigrate people who rely on social security support. The misery being inflicted by the government’s mishandling of this disastrous programme must be stopped and the full roll-out should be suspended immediately.
“The government’s arrogant refusal to listen to its own staff, experts, charities, those affected and even its own MPs shows their aim is not to help people but to cynically cut support from those who need it most. A review of the entire project – from its impact on claimants to systemic failings, IT problems and pressures on staff – is needed before any decision is made as to whether it is fit to continue.”
The DWP has made it clear to PCS that it has no plans to recruit any additional staff in the 2018-19 financial year for either UC Service Centres or the Jobcentre network. PCS believes that these decisions will make it impossible for UC to be rolled out without serious impacts on people claiming UC and a real kick in the teeth for conscientious civil servants trying to make sure that claimants get what they are entitled to.
Cuts to DWP resources must be reversed to give the department the means to develop a system that offers genuine help. This should begin with a reversal of the recent decision to freeze recruitment in the current financial year.
Chaos and lack of planning
We do not believe the measures the government announced in the November 2017 budget of a further delay to some aspects of the roll-out timetable and the reduction of the 6-week wait to 5 weeks will fundamentally change anything. The alterations to the roll-out timetable are not a pause. They are likely to create additional problems as a result of lack of planning in an already chaotic and over-stretched programme.
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. Until July 2017, DWP rolled out UC to new claimants at a rate of 5 jobcentres a month. In July it was rolled-out to 29 jobcentres. The roll-out will be increased to 50 jobcentres a month for new claimants up to January, and was intended to go up to 60 after that. Under the DWP‘s pre-budget plans it was expected to be operational in all parts of the UK by September 2018.
However, it was announced in the budget that roll-out is to be slowed from February to only 10 Jobcentres a month for February to April, an increase to 41 in May and then 60 a month, still with a pause in August. The resulting impact is that full roll-out will not now be complete until the end of December 2018. PCS is opposed to the proposed roll-out schedule, and believes that it should be paused immediately.
Significantly, the steady increase of cuts to UC since it was first announced mean that it will now be almost £3 billion a year less generous than the system it replaces. The money announced in the budget does not address this. This poses a major drag on the living standards of families on low and middle incomes over the next few years.
No reason for delay
As a result of pressure from PCS and others, the government was forced to make a reduction of one week to the wait period, reducing the total delay it to five weeks. We believe there is no justifiable reason for any delay to be in-built into the UC system.
We continue 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.
Jobcentre closures and staff cuts
DWP now employs over 30,000 fewer staff than in 2010 because of government job cuts. Many highly experienced, fully benefit-trained processors have been replaced by staff given a few weeks of training, rather than the years of training and consolidation previously invested that allowed staff to deal effectively and timeously with claimant queries.
The closure of DWP offices will mean that people using the services will have fewer locations where they can go for help and advice with both claiming UC and finding work. Some customers, many with mobility issues, will have to travel much further to access Jobcentre Plus services.
PCS opposes the government’s jobcentre closures and the closures of “back of house” offices, and the redundancies and loss of expertise likely to result from the programme. Our campaigns against jobcentre closures in constituencies across the country have received cross-party support from MPs.
Our members in jobcentres across the UK, have taken strike action against the closures, including at the Eastern Avenue jobcentre in Sheffield where members went on strike for more than 40 days.