Universal Credit staff have delivered a damning verdict on Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship welfare reform.
Staff told the PCS union that Universal Credit is ‘in disarray’ and mired by a lack of staff, poor training and an inadequate IT system.
A survey carried out by PCS, shows that 90% of Universal Credit staff believe the IT systems underpinning the new benefit are less than adequate. Only 0.9% said the IT systems were more than adequate.
Respondents to the survey also said they didn’t feel confident in carrying out their roles, with four in five saying the training they had received to prepare them for Universal Credit was of a poor standard.
Almost three-quarters said their working conditions had deteriorated under the new system, leaving them feeling stressed or very stressed.
77% said they thought staffing levels were less than adequate and two thirds said they were frequently asked to work overtime, with only 7% saying they were never asked.
Perhaps the most damning indictment of Universal Credit, is that more than half of those who responded to the survey said the new benefit was not an improvement for claimants.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has spent more than £700 million on Universal Credit, which merges a number of existing benefits into one single monthly payment.
The new benefit has been dogged by long delays and IT problems. Last year the Government admitted it may have to write off £663 million on Universal Credit IT.
Official government figures show that only 31,030 people were on Universal Credit by 8 January 2015. Of these 32% were in employment and 68% were not in employment.
At the time of the survey, around 820 staff were working on universal credit and 300 to 400 responded to the questions.
PCS say they are not opposed to Universal Credit in principle, but say the scheme has not been designed with claimants in mind.
They added that staff are not being given proper training and resources, while millions of pounds on IT have already been written off.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:
“No one can trust Iain Duncan Smith to tell the truth about universal credit so it falls to the staff to expose this wasteful and politically motivated shambles for what it is.
“It has long been obvious that staff are under-resourced and undertrained and that universal credit is at risk of collapse.
“The DWP cannot keep burying its head in the sand and hope these problems go away because they are only going to get worse if nothing is done.”
A DWP spokesman said:
“The PCS survey comprises of only 13% of our 2,700 staff working on Universal Credit.
“They chose to ignore staff in our Jobcentres when conducting this research providing a skewed unrepresentative sample of union members.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 13 Mar 2015
Government officials have been reported as saying that up to 30,000 DWP staff could be axed, if the Tories win the next general election.
The startling figure represents a significant reduction in the DWP’s 83,000 full-time staff.
But even under a future Labour government, the number of DWP staff could be slashed by up to 20,000.
If true, the reductions would occur gradually over the course of the next parliament.
A spokesperson for the PCS union, who include DWP staff among their members, said:
“If carried through this would devastate the delivery of essential social security support.”
It’s unclear as to whether these cutbacks would affect front-line Jobcentre staff.
Neither the Conservatives nor Labour have confirmed or denied the allegation.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 13 Mar 2015
The cost to job seekers of having their benefit payments stopped has rocketed by 3,000% under the Tory-led coalition Government, new figures show.
Analysis of Government figures by the PCS union reveals that the value of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) payments sanctioned in the year to September 2014 was £355 million, compared to just £11 million in 2009/2010.
PCS says the shocking figure explains why benefit sanctions have been directly linked to a surge in food bank users.
The food bank charity Trussell Trust supported more than 913,000 people with three-days worth of emergency food in 2013/14.
The new research from PCS is published ahead of a Dispatches investigation to be broadcast this evening into the government’s sanctions regime.
The documentary will feature details of a new report from a coalition of major churches, which reveals that nearly 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions last year.
Under changes to the sanctions regime, the length of time sanctions can be imposed for has increased, with the minimum set at four weeks, rising to 13 weeks and up to three years.
Opponents of the new system say unemployed people are being unfairly “vilified” and demonised for economic problems not of their making.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:
“This government is imposing much harsher penalties on people who rely on social security at the same time as seeking to blame and vilify them for being out of work.
“Sanctions do nothing to help unemployed people find sustainable jobs. They only poison the relationship between claimants and jobcentre staff, and they should be scrapped immediately.”
> Mr Serwotka doesn’t tell us how many sanctions have been applied by PCS members. Or why his union hasn’t taken action about it.
Commenting on the impact of benefit sanction on Britain’s poorest children, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Something has gone badly wrong when 100,000 children are innocent victims of benefit sanctions.
“Under this government the sanctions system has become a cruel maze in which it is all too easy for claimants to lose cash for minor breaches of rules and random decisions.
“Even those who have contributed for years and are working hard to get a new job can find themselves sanctioned, and driven to food banks.
“There are now huge holes in the welfare safety net that whole families are falling through.
“And Jobcentre staff have been forced to moved away from providing positive help to meeting sanctions targets in a culture that is too often about bullying both frontline staff and claimants.”
> But some Jobcentre staff actually appear to revel in their new powers – many of us will have them in action. I kind of resent the way they’re now trying to reposition themselves as victims.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 03 Mar 2015
A pledged crackdown on tax evaders who fail to pay tens of millions to the Treasury has been a failure, a North East Labour MP says.
Blyth Valley’s Ronnie Campbell’s comments come after tax expert Richard Murphy estimated around £80m was not paid to the Government last year.
The MP also called on the Conservatives to reverse job cuts at HM Revenue and Customs (HRMC) which he says have shrunken the workforce by 43% in just over a decade.
He said: “The current Tory-led coalition has promised a clamp-down, but have not acted on those empty promises.
“Think how many new hospitals, schools and care homes could have been built across the North East.
“It is a disgrace and the next Labour government will sort it out.”
The report, commissioned by the Public and Commercial Services union, revealed the overall amount of tax owed, evaded or avoided has barely reduced despite tough-talking pledges by the Government. It adds evasion could rise to £100bn by 2018-19.
The report focused on economic activities not recorded or declared so as to avoid government regulation or taxation; tax lost as a result of other criminal or fraudulent activity in the UK economy; capital gains tax and inheritance tax and offshore tax evasion; and tax evasion on investment and rental income.
The report recommends introducing a proper anti-avoidance rule into UK tax law; country-by-country reporting for multinational corporations; reform of small business taxation; and proper regulation of companies in the UK to ensure they file their accounts and tax returns and pay the taxes they owe.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 Sept 2014
The group’s first motion this morning (19 May), proposed by Mandy Priest of DWP Dorset branch and seconded by Glasgow benefit centre branch, opposed the “implementation of a system based on punishment”.
> The “implementation” ? Bit late opposing the implemention – its been with us for several years ! As PCS’ DWP members must be aware.
The motion also said the “widest possible campaign across the trade union movement” was needed to defeat the government’s attacks on benefit claimants.
> The government’s attacks, certainly. But it’s DWP staff who implement them.
Gerry McMahon from Glasgow benefit centre branch said: “The welfare state has been under attack in Britain for many years. Huge cuts have been made that make life on benefits much harder.”
Gerry highlighted the fact that a group of religious leaders have said that hunger is now a national crisis and said our union needs to take up its welfare campaign “like never before“.
Nick Parker, from our Lincolnshire and Rutland branch, called for a united campaign involving “as many people as possible to defeat attacks on welfare”.
Tony Church, speaking on behalf of the group executive, said: “In the 90s John Major, the Tory prime minister, said we were living in a classless society. It was a lie then it’s a lie now. The current coalition goverment is probably the most divided ever.”
He said that welfare reform was just another name for screw the poor.
The motion instructed conference to campaign for:
- Fair, decent levels of benefit
- The repeal of the Bedroom Tax and benefit cap
- A mass council house building scheme
- The abolition of the work capability assessment
- The abolition of workfare and removal of the sanctions regime
- A publicly-run, fair and decent social security system as part of a welfare state based on people’s needs.
The motion was passed unanimously.
> Fine words. But will PCS DWP members refuse to sanction people ? Not send people to workfare ? They could make a start, right now. They probably wont, though.
Source – PCS Union website, 19 May 2014
The unpaid Community Work Placements are one element of ‘Help To Work’. This is the latest draconian scheme concocted by Iain Duncan Smith as part of his increasingly desperate attempt to prove that unemployment is caused by unemployed people. The £300 million initiative involves claimants sent on six month’s full time workfare for ‘community organisations’ under the threat of benefits being stopped.
The scheme is mired in chaos with sources at the beginning of the month saying that no-one who works in Jobcentres has “been told anything about it”. This is confirmed by a DWP newsletter which says that “the first claimants will be referred onto Community Work Placements from the end of May 2014”. It is even unclear whether daily signing, or mandatory interventions –…
View original post 561 more words
> The PCS union may wring its hands and claim “we are only obeying orders” when it comes to its DWP members enforcing sanctions on the unemployed, but it seems other sections can get off their collective arse when it’s them likely to lose an income.
Workers who fear for their futures under a possible privatisation began a 48-hour strike today (Wednesday, May 14).
Staff at the Land Registry office in Durham City are among thousands of Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) members employed by the agency across the country who are taking action.
They are concerned that the Government agency is going to be privatised and that offices will be closed and jobs lost.
The Land Registry employs about 400 people in Durham , most of them PCS members, and is one of the city’s major employers.
PCS branch chairman Kim Lowes said: “We had a really good turn-out, in all about 30 people visited the picket line.
“We think it is the best-supported strike action we have had, certainly in my time at Durham Land Registry. We think upwards of 85 per cent of members were out.
“We have had national strikes in the past about pay and pensions but this one is different. This is potentially about the future of the Land Registry in Durham completely.
“If they go down the road of office closures and Durham is one of them, then nobody will be safe regardless of grade or how long they have worked there.
“There are an awful lot of families and couples in particular that work there that will lose both wage earners.
Ms Lowes said workers were concerned about the future quality of the service, treatment of personal data and charges under a private owner.
Source – Durham Times, 14 May 2014
Echoing the government’s own research, in a survey of their members who work as jobcentre advisors, 70% of respondents said sanctions had no positive impact.
> But were they meant to have a “positive” impact ? I dont think that was every the case, they have always been a form of punishment.
More than three quarters of those who took part said they had seen an increase in referrals to foodbanks.
The findings contrast sharply with outrageous comments made yesterday by one of the Department for Work and Pensions‘ most senior civil servants.
Questioned by Members of the Scottish Parliament, Neil Couling said many people who face benefit sanctions “welcome the jolt” it can give them.
He also claimed poor people were “maximising their economic choices” by turning to foodbanks.
When PCS exposed the prevalence of advisers being given targets for referring claimants for sanctions last year, it was Couling who tried to rubbish it, despite the overwhelming evidence.
Targets for sanctions
In the survey, 23% said they had been given an explicit target for making sanction referrals and 81% said there was an ‘expectation‘ level.
Almost two thirds said they had experienced pressure to refer claimants for a sanction inappropriately.
More than one third stated they had been placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP) for not making “enough” referrals and 10% had gone as far as formal performance procedures.
The performance system can lead to dismissal so this kind of pressure is a thinly veiled threat to people’s jobs.
> As opposed to the explicit threat of sanctioning those who have no job at all…
The DWP is yet to provide any evidence that advisers who make an excessive number of referrals are challenged in the same way.
The stricter regime has led to an increase in violence and threats, with 72% of respondents reporting an increase in verbal abuse and 37% seeing an increase in physical abuse.
While we do not believe it is acceptable, we understand the anger directed towards jobcentre staff and we have a shared interest with claimants in bringing this counterproductive system to an end.
> Well, let us know when you start… my personal experience is that there are far too many Jobcentre workers who seem quite enthusiastic about sanctioning people. Perhaps they’re not PCS members ?
We believe the government must fully analyse and take responsibility for the damaging effects sanctions are having on claimants and their families.
> In the meantime ? PCS are in the position of really damaging this increasingly insane strategy by instructing members not to sanction anyone. They cant sack everyone.
But I fear the PCS has no teeth and no spine.
Source – PCS website 30 April 2014
> You might find these extracts from the PCS union website of interest regarding the latest ‘Help To Work‘ nonsense….
This circular provides an update on the new increased conditionality regime from the end of April, and advice for PCS branches.
The Government is introducing increased conditionality measures from 28 April 2014 for JSA and lone parent claimants, and for or UC claimants from summer 2014. Although some measures will be phased in up to December 2014.
> “some measures will be phased in up to December 2014” – at the very least, I should think. I suppose this refers to the fact that the scheme is launched before they’ve actually got anyone on board to run it.
Advisers have now been re-branded as “Work Coaches” and Job search review/Assistant Advisers are now to be called “Assistant Work Coaches”.
> If in doubt, give everyone pointless new titles – it may give the impression that you are doing something. Work coaches – I ask you ! I really hope the ex-advisers are cringing at the prospect.
PCS has concerns that the department does not have adequate resources in place to cope with the new levels of work. The new measures appear to be aimed at ‘frustrating’ claimants off benefit, something the DWP was recently criticised for in the recent select committee report into the role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare state.
> ‘frustrating’ claimants off benefit’ – well yes, we’ve already figured that out. The trouble is, there’s no use PCS moaning when so many of their members seem quite happy – even enthusiastic – about enforcing these tactics. Now they’re really going to find out what ‘work‘ is all about.
This covers five elements of Day One Conditionality, Weekly Work Search Reviews, Quarterly Work Search Interviews, English Language Requirements and Increasing Lone Parent Conditionality.
An additional 12 minutes has been assigned to the initial new claims interview to complete the day one conditionality and English language requirements.
Day One Conditionality
Claimants using JSA Online will receive a message outlining Day One Conditionality Claimants will be required to demonstrate “positive job-seeking behaviours” from day one of their claim to benefit.
Day One Conditionality introduces an expectation for the claimant to create a Profile and Public CV in Universal Jobmatch; or create a CV and email account that can be used for employment purposes, if the claimant is not yet able to create a profile and Public CV within Universal Jobmatch.
These requirements and can be mandated by issuing a Jobseeker’s Direction, Conditionality is subject to a phased introduction between 28 April 2014 and 31 October 2014.
Increasing Lone Parent Conditionality (ILPC)
From April 2014 changes will apply to lone parents who are entitled to Income Support (IS); or claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and are in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG)
Currently lone parents who are entitled to IS must attend regular Work-focused Interviews (WFIs) once their youngest child reaches the age of one. From April 2014 the frequency and duration of WFIs for this group of claimants will be determined by Advisers.
Work Related Activity (WRA) is also being introduced for ESA (WRAG) and IS lone parents with a youngest child aged 3 and over. From 28 April 2014 an easement in regulations has been introduced to prevent more than one sanction being applied in any two week period
Weekly Work Search Reviews
Weekly Work Search Reviews are subject to a phased introduction between 28 April 2014 and 31 October 2014. This applies to 50% of the live load, excluding Work Programme participants and claimants receiving support from the Help to Work Package. Claimants should be selected at Work Coach discretion. Claimants may be moved on and off Weekly Work Search Review. The 50% ratio is reviewed and monitored across each District.
English Language Requirements
A screening aide will be available to assist Work Coaches in identifying claimants whose English language speaking and listening skills are below E2. Once identified, the Work Coach will mandate the claimant to a provider assessment, using the Skills Conditionality referral process.
If any Day One Conditionality activity is appropriate to the claimant but their English Language is a barrier to them completing it, the English Language barrier would need to be addressed first. The DWP recognise that individual claimants will learn at different speeds, often with varying starting levels of spoken English. The average length of time they take to complete English Language Training is expected to vary between 7 and 20 weeks.
Quarterly Work Search Interviews
Twenty minute Quarterly Work Search Interview are being introduced to review the claimant’s jobsearch activities in the previous quarter, including updating the Claimant Commitment and widening jobsearch activities.
> Widening jobsearch activities ? Dont like the sound of that much…probably means having to apply for even more jobs you know you wont get in order to hit increased targets.
Help to Work (HtW)
Equal numbers of claimants are expected to be assigned to each of the three Help to Work Package measures:
> The word ‘assigned’ appears to suggest that we wont have any say in what we get stuck with. No doubt our Work Coach will have targets for each option and you’ll just get stuck with whatever they’re not meeting their targets on.
Mandatory Intervention Regime
This is the current support for claimants who have completed the Work Programme. The first 8 weeks of the Mandatory Intervention Regime (MIR) is known as the Assessment Phase. During this 8 week phase Work Coaches can decide to place the claimants in Daily Work Search Reviews or Community Work Placements. Claimants can only be allocated to Community Work Placements or Daily Work Search Reviews during the Assessment Phase
> Work Coaches can decide to place the claimants – yep, you dont get a choice.
Daily Work Search Review
The claimant will be required to attend the Jobcentre daily for up to 13 weeks to review jobseeking activities of the previous day and provide a labour market declaration signature.
Every 4 weeks the claimant’s attendance schedule must be changed.
Claimants are entitled to reimbursement of travel costs incurred to attend additional WSR. To enable claimants to attend Daily WSR, it is accepted that payment in advance, particularly in the form of weekly bus / rail travel tickets and passes may be appropriate.
> Every 4 weeks the claimant’s attendance schedule must be changed – ???
Community Work Placements
External provision will consist of a work placement that is of benefit to the community for up to 30 hours a week and supplemented by up to 10 hours jobsearch. If the claimant is still in receipt of JSA/UC after six months they will be transferred to MIR.
> If the claimant is still in receipt of JSA/UC after six months they will be transferred to MIR. – where your Work Coach can decide to place the claimants in Daily Work Search Reviews or Community Work Placements. Back to square one, in other words.
Although a meeting is planned for 24th April, PCS has not yet been consulted over key issues such as appropriate resourcing and the health and safety risk assessment.
There should also be consultation with trade union sides at district and local level, as well as consultation as part of the risk assessment process. PCS has pressed that this is made explicitly mandatory; given reports received that district management are going ahead with changes without engaging with the unions.
The Group Executive Committee (GEC) has raised concerns over the department’s capacity to deliver the additional work and cope with the increased footfall of up to 60%. 620 WSD staff will be leaving Job centres in June through the VES scheme with no one to replace them.
> Oh dear, oh dear… more claimants, fewer staff. Can anyone see the flaw in this plan ?
However DWP believe that current staffing levels are appropriate, as jobcentre staffing was due to be reduced by 10% which matches the numbers needed to deliver SR13 and HtW. The re-grading of the CSM post also delivers a significant cost saving. The GEC have pressed DWP for more staff, and believe jobcentres are at a crisis point in terms of staffing, workloads, safety and space.
The introduction of further attendance brings in an even stricter conditionality regime. The GEC is deeply concerned for the safety of PCS members facing the brunt of the public’s anger at this policy.
> Damn right !
Reports have been received that attendance times should be changed on every occasion, in order to ‘frustrate claimants off benefit’ which bears a resemblance to the hotly denied and lambasted ‘Botherability’. Group Officers need to be informed if this message is being relayed in offices, reps should challenge management locally and escalate.
> A different time every day ? you can just imagine the planning meeting – “hey guys, how could we make this situation even more chaotic ?‘
PCS opposes further attacks on benefit claimants
PCS believes that SR13 and HtW are not intended to offer further help to claimants, as the introduction of further mandation and attendance is clearly aimed at trying to set claimants up to fail. It is part of the politically motivated agenda the Government has of vilifying benefit claimants, rather than offering genuinely tailored support.
The DWP received criticism from the Select Committee in January over their off-flow target based approach, however, these new measures are politically driven policy which civil servants have been instructed to implement.
> But they don’t have to implement them. The old ‘Nuremberg Defence’ (I was only obeying orders) was never a valid one. But for fuck’s sake – PCS, YOU ARE A UNION. YOU CAN TAKE ACTION. Stop your members taking it out on the ‘customers‘ and take on the government instead. You may need to grow a spine first, though.
PCS campaigns against the stricter benefit and conditionality regime, we believe our members are best placed to help benefit claimants when they are given adequate time and discretion to truly identify the support needed, not by fostering hostility through draconian and punitive practices.
> So do something about it !
Branches are asked to ensure they are fully involved in consultation and the risk assessment processes, and issues are appropriately escalated. The introduction of the new measures should be phased until October and December 2014 to ensure there are appropriate resources and systems in place. There should be no ‘big bang’ approach. Risk assessments should be used to identify for a potential increase in CSMs and G4S security guards.
> a potential increase in CSMs and G4S security guards – hey, more government cash for G4S… now who would have expected that ?
Source: PCS website 24 April 2014
Despite wildly optimistic claims from the DWP, today’s launch of mass workfare seems to be in chaos behind the scenes. With barely any information yet available on the scheme it appears that the flagship Help To Work programme has no-one actually running it, no guidance for companies involved and no real plan to deal with the huge influx of claimants to Jobcentres from daily signing.
According to the BBC a mere 70 so-called charities have signed up to provide placements on the scheme which will involve forcing unemployed people to carry out 780 hours of unpaid work. For ‘Help To Work to be successful, these charities will need to accept hundreds, or possibly thousands of placements each. Predictably the DWP are not saying who the charities are. So far the only voluntary sector organisation…
View original post 551 more words