6 October 2021

PCS warns minister of catastrophic impact of Universal Credit cut

“A catastrophic effect on the most vulnerable families in our society,” is how PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka has described the Universal Credit cut, which takes effect today, in a letter to secretary of state Therese Coffey.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the standard allowance of Universal Credit would be temporarily increased by £20 a week.

The uplift was initially set to last 12 months but was then extended by six months. It was confirmed in July that no more extensions would be applied and from today, the standard allowance returns to its pre-March 2020 level.

Mark described as “alarming” the government’s justification for the cut to move people into jobs.

“This is entirely flawed considering over 40% of current claimants are already in work and many of them are currently employed by your department,” he said.

Mark highlighted that we have been contacted by members across the Department for Work and Pensions in recent days, who have shared their fears regarding the £20 cut and the feedback we have received has been both overwhelming and alarming. Many have said they have relied on the uplift to make ends meet and they will now struggle to heat their homes and feed their families.

Mark said: “I am appalled that our members are not only facing these hardships but that their own pay is so poor that they are in receipt of benefits.”

He urged the cabinet minister to “act immediately and take steps to stop this unnecessary cut which will impact our members and the lives of millions of others, many of whom are already in work.”

Dear Therese,

Cut to UC – Impact on staff

I am writing to you on behalf of Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union members employed across your department in various roles including work coaches, administrative officers and executive officers delivering Universal Credit and other benefits, regarding the decision of Government to cut the £20 uplift in Universal Credit.

Opposition and Government MPs, and campaigners, including trade unions and third sector organisations, have all indicated their concerns regarding the decision of Government and your department to end the £20 uplift, a decision which will undoubtedly have a catastrophic effect on the most vulnerable families in our society. The Governments alarming justification, which states that the focus of the cut is to move people into jobs, is entirely flawed considering over 40% of current claimants are already in work and many of them are currently employed by your department.

PCS has contacted members across the DWP in recent days, asking them to share their fears regarding the £20 cut and the feedback we have received has been both overwhelming and alarming. Below are just a few testimonies (names have been changed) from our members, your staff, who are in receipt of Universal Credit:

Margaret, a single parent who is a full time Executive Officer at Job Centre Plus – “I claim UC and I am struggling to make ends meet already without losing the uplift. The cost of food has increased, and I have had to increase my food budget by £20 a month to reflect that, also fuel has increased to its highest cost per litre in quite some time, now gas and electricity going up is really making me scared for the future. I don’t have anything to cut back on anymore and I am going to be forced into a position where I am asking family to help me out with food in the last week of the month”

Greg, Executive Officer at Job Centre Plus – “I am a single parent with a 16 year old son who has just started college. The £20 a week loss will make it increasingly difficult for me to afford his bus fare and provide him with adequate lunches. I struggle with anxiety, taking daily medication for it, and this has got much worse over the last few weeks knowing that yet again I have to try and do more with less.

Wendy, Administrative Officer at DWP contact centre – “I am going to struggle with the £20 stopping which I feel is incredibly unfair. I know it’s only £20 but when you have a small child who I receive DLA for and a partner who can’t find work at the moment, this is a lot to lose. I just feel the Government need to make sure people are not going into financial hardship which a lot of people are going to find themselves in.”

I am appalled that our members are not only facing these hardships but that their own pay is so poor that they are in receipt of benefits.

You and other Cabinet members have claimed that the issue can be solved by people ‘working an extra two hours’. This is false. Assuming a worker received £10 per hour, two hours extra would be £20 in the pay packet but the Universal Credit they receive would automatically be cut by £12.60 per week. To make up the missing £20, a worker actually needs to earn an extra £54 which means they need to work an extra six hours, not a couple of hours as has been portrayed, not taking into account other expenses such as childcare.

For many years PCS has tried to work with the Department to ensure the social security system is fit for purpose, that it delivers vital assistance to those who require state support and that it is fair, giving expert advice and knowledge for all who use it. In recent years we have been critical of system changes and the subsequent impact on our members and the claimants who they work to support day in and day out. But we have also worked to ensure our members are treated fairly, that morale is improved and that the Department acknowledge that these key, front line workers, deserve equality, fair pay and terms and conditions.

During lockdown and throughout the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, our members have shown that they are adaptable, they have continued to work both from home and workplaces, ensuring the most vulnerable in our society receive the support they need in order to continue living their lives. It is therefore a kick in the teeth for thousands of these hardworking members to be facing not only a government imposed pay freeze but also the £20 cut which will push them into further financial difficulties, making theirs and their families lives more stressful and fraught, particularly leading into the winter months. PCS believes this cut can and should be stopped immediately.

I urge you as the Secretary of State to act immediately and take steps to stop this unnecessary cut which will impact our members and the lives of millions of others, many of whom are already in work.