22 July 2021

From the president

For the past two weeks or so many of the previous Covid safety restrictions have been lifted in England, and it is likely Scotland and Wales will follow suit over the coming days and weeks.

Whatever your individual view of the pandemic and current situation, I am sure we all share the view that the union must remain vigilant and continue to prioritise the safety of our members, your families, and the public to whom you provide vital services.

At risk and undervalued 

PCS has taken a robust stance with DWP throughout this crisis and has continued to pursue a measured response from the employer at each stage of this pandemic.

Previous issues of the Voice and other group communications have highlighted the many successes we have had in protecting our members during the most challenging of periods and we continue to proceed along the same lines in talks with the employer. 

What is noticeable now though, is that DWP is a microcosm of wider society in the truest sense of the word. As the UK government rolls back on the safety first approach it has been shamed in to following for a year and more, and bares its loathing of all that is public sector by attacking our members pay, while doing the same to other public sector workers, DWP is making the same mistakes as the bosses in Whitehall.

For the past 4 months our members in jobcentres have been on the receiving end of a totally unnecessary increase in risk to their safety. By extending face-to-face provision to customers beyond the most vulnerable, as had previously been the case, the employer has literally opened the door to a rise in infection that is as alarming as it was avoidable. 

It is now common place for us to see 30-plus confirmed Covid cases a day within our office network, the vast majority of which are within jobcentres, and is a stark reminder if one were needed, that this virus isn't going anywhere just yet. Despite the harsh reality faced by our members, in an act that is beyond irresponsible, DWP now proposes to extend face-to-face services even further by opening up 'red desks' within the next few weeks – unless local risk assessments prevent this from happening. 

Despite assurances we had been given that DWP was not looking to escalate its office usage at this stage, this clearly doesn't apply to our members on the front line, who now face an even greater risk of infection within a matter of weeks, unless we can force DWP to back track. 

It must also call in to question how meaningful is the assurance that there will be no mass return to the workplace in other directorates. 

At the same time our members across the group will have received their pay award for 2021 in this month’s salaries. As I've written this column 3 days after payday, the chances are that you'll already have spent the extra cash you received so little there was of it. 

A £250 annual salary increase for the lowest paid in the department and nothing whatsoever for the vast majority of members, is an appalling indictment on this government, the Treasury and our employer. It is a pay offer that could scarcely be described as a reward at the best of times, but at a time like no other, when our members have delivered more than ever before, this has to be seen as the greatest insult yet. Even the extra bung of £145, before tax, one-off payment cannot soften the blow.

The warm words and praise heaped upon DWP staff over the past 18 months do not pay bills, or feed families, or provide respite, as our members and their loved ones face the economic fallout from Covid-19. Now was the time to deliver proper recognition for our members, and other public sector workers, and show a level of appreciation that matched our efforts. 

We must all use this to galvanise our resolve to both support the union’s ongoing national campaign, as well as fleshing out our own campaigning activity within this group.

Engage and build 

PCS will continue to consult members throughout the summer period about these latest developments and other key issues facing us in DWP.

The summer is traditionally a difficult time to organise and build membership activity, due to holidays, annual leave and term-time working reducing the numbers at work; but engage we will, organise we must and build we can.

All members within the group will receive a survey in the coming days and I would urge every one of you to complete and return it. Your branches will also be approaching you to attend members’ meetings throughout August and early September, which will also be attended by a GEC member, and again I would urge you to attend one of these meetings to let us know your views. Throughout the holiday period we will be monitoring the returns and meeting with various committees to go through the feedback we are receiving. 

In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy any break you will be taking, you have earned that and so much more. Come back refreshed, ready to continue providing much-needed public services, but also determined to play your part in helping your union achieve all of the wins you deserve.

In solidarity,

Martin Cavanagh 
DWP Group President