In service centres, case managers are answering more than a hundred calls a week in some cases. This has a huge impact on the ability of staff to manage their own caseloads, and has resulted in as few as one in 10 claimants actually being able to get through to their designated case manager. The lack of staff is reaching crisis point, with thousands of pages of unread journal entries driving more and more phone calls from the supposedly digital-first service.
Union members have shown they are absolutely unwilling to accept this poor treatment from DWP. Based on feedback from the UC advisory committee, and a special meeting of reps from every service centre, the GEC has agreed to fight for 5,000 additional service centre staff, and for a cap of 30 calls per case manager a week.
At car park meetings, members in Wolverhampton, Walsall, Blackpool and Stockport have voted to potentially take strike action to support these demands, in order to reduce the pressure on our members and improve support to claimants.
Universal Credit has faced enormous criticism from local councils, from charities supporting claimants and even from the United Nations, which has blamed the government’s welfare policies for rises in child poverty, for the destitution of 1.5 million UK citizens and for increases in homelessness and use of foodbanks. The union has submitted evidence to the UK parliament and Scottish parliament to prove our case that major changes are needed.
Yet the government still isn’t able to answer basic questions, such as how “managed migration” of claimants from JSA, ESA and IS will work, and how claimants’ income will be protected. Our members in DWP have also asked legitimate questions about how their privacy will be protected if they need to claim UC tax credits or housing components – and DWP has proved unable to answer this, prevaricating about introducing processes that would guarantee that staff don’t wind up ringing the service centre in which they work.
Victories have been won. Hundreds of UC fixed-term appointments have been converted into permanent staff, but members' meetings will continue around the UK to push DWP to recruit new staff, and to meaningfully engage with PCS on reducing staff workloads. Without this – both in Jobcentres and service centres – an industrial dispute is becoming increasingly likely early in 2019.