We need to see a Corbyn government commit to overturn decades of attacks on and ridicule of benefits claimants and return to the founding principles of a properly-resourced welfare state, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka told our union’s TUC Congress fringe today (11).
Mark told the meeting at Manchester Central that the rollout of Universal Credit needs to stop because it’s in chaos and there aren’t enough staff to deliver it.
“We need to stop a system that is causing so much difficulty for people claiming benefits,” he said. “The benefits system is broken, under-resourced, inadequate and understaffed.”
He said that the government wants to divide people in work, those who work in DWP and those in receipt of benefits.
“The starting point of the debate on welfare needs to be the founding principles of the welfare state that it is for all people and provide dignity for all people at all stages of their lives,” he said.
“The state should provide provision for people when they need it, as of right.”
He said we need more professional people helping and supporting people when they need it and more jobcentres, not fewer.
“We had a system that wasn’t perfect but gave people money when they needed it. Almost exclusively people claim benefits because of a crisis out of their control,” he said.
Fighting the stigma of claimants
Mark said that New Labour took stigmatisation of welfare claimants to new levels and there was a lot of work to do to put that right. He said we need radical welfare polices from a future Labour government that gives us a welfare system that we can be proud of.
“More money is needed as we have some of the lowest rates of benefits in Western Europe,” he said.
£34 billion has been cut from the social security budget with a further £12bn planned to be cut by 2022. PCS is now drawing up proposals for a fundamentally different service as part of our welfare alternative.
PCS president Janice Godrich chaired the meeting and highlighted the fact that many workers are “just a month away from the dole queue”.
PCS DWP group president Fran Heathcote said our union is “asking for decent employment and decent jobs”.
Universal Credit debacle
Steve Swainton, PCS DWP Group assistant secretary, told the meeting that Universal Credit had been a “debacle from the start”.
“Universal Credit has been understaffed and underfunded at every stage. Our members are doing everything they can do to mitigate the worst of the system but we need a radical redesign.”
Colin Hampton, co-ordinator of the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centres (DUWC), had a message to people who said that full employment was unrealistic: “If we can spend money on bombing people we can spend money on putting people into work.
“The benefits issue is fundamental to the trade union movement. What happens to people on benefits affects what happens to people in the workplace and wider society.”
He said that we must all work to fill the current Tory vacuum on benefits policy and start to change the narrative about the way in which welfare is talked about in the UK.
“We need to restore dignity and respect to people in and out of work,” he said.
The DUWC has recently surveyed 100 Universal Credit claimants in Chesterfield and Colin said the findings were “horrific”. It contains reports of money being cut, claimants forced to borrow from friends and family because of large delays, lots of problems claiming online, struggles with housing costs and complaints about the use of sanctions. More than 50% of the respondents took a clearly negative view of their experiences under UC but praised the role of staff who tried to help them.
Liane Groves, head of Unite Community which represents 16,000 benefits claimants across the UK, called for a radical alternative to the present system of welfare and scapegoating of benefits claimants. She also said that it was no surprise that inequality has increased in our society while the influence of trade unions has been reduced.
Unity Community is holding a national day of action on 1 December to highlight changes claimants will face when Universal Credit is rolled out in January.