Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for additional resources and funding for the DWP and praised frontline staff who continue to work in an “overstretched welfare system” during the ongoing pandemic.
In his last ever Prime Minister’s Questions as Labour leader yesterday (26), he raised numerous issues regarding DWP and access to Universal Credit during the ongoing pandemic. He urged the prime minister to commit to additional resources and funding. Although, Boris Johnson confirmed additional money was going into the welfare system he said little about additional frontline DWP staff.
PCS is in regular contact with the department and will continue to urge ministers to review staffing as a priority to ensure all service users gain quick access to the funds they deserve.
DWP management questioned over department’s response to Covid-19 outbreak
100,000 people have tried to access Universal Credit highlighting the pressure on PCS members who work for the Department for Work and Pensions and the massive insecurity many people are facing because of the coronavirus.
During the morning session of the parliamentary work and pensions select committee it emerged that more than 470,000 people had applied for Universal Credit in the past 10 days, following the government’s announcement of social lockdown and the closure of thousands of businesses across the UK in response to the escalation of the pandemic. It was also confirmed that in the past 24 hours alone more than 100,000 people had tried to access the government’s flagship welfare system.
MP Chris Stephens confirmed that the committee would be writing to the department to seek assurances following worrying reports that some service centres were not practising appropriate social distancing and staff were without adequate sanitising products.
He also flagged up numerous issues of concern, including:
- Health and safety within buildings, and
- Access to social security for the most vulnerable.
The permanent secretary Peter Schofield, who answered most of the operational questions, confirmed that additional staff were being brought in from elsewhere in the department and from other areas of the civil service, to deal with the immensely increased workload. However, he acknowledged that with an ever-changing situation, issues such as staffing were constantly under review.
Non-repayable grant ruled out
Committee chair Stephen Timms asked secretary of state Thérèse Coffey if the department would be willing to alter the current ‘advance payment’ so that those already facing financial uncertain due to the outbreak, could access it as a non-repayable grant. Although she acknowledged the point she refused stating that fairness for the taxpayer was paramount and that operationally, such a change would not be feasible. The permanent secretary echoed this statement telling the committee that the department must stick with policy and the current framework to ensure that UC and automation continues to work.
Parliament closed early for Easter last night, until 21 April, because of concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
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