POLITICS

Union Boss Says DWP Can't Cope With Number Of People Needing Benefits Help

Universal Credit roll-out will add to pressures on staff.

21/11/2017 13:51 GMT | Updated 21/11/2017 15:12 GMT

Workers in big government departments cannot cope with the demands being placed on them, union bosses say.

Paul O’Connor, head of bargaining at the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union - which represents 160,000 civil servants - says drastic cuts and increased pressure on departments including HMRC and the DWP mean staff are struggling to keep up with workloads.

Giving evidence to a Parliamentary committee on Tuesday on the service’s effectiveness, O’Connor said: “In terms of public service delivery obligations, the modern day civil service - particularly in a large department - is incredibly ineffective.

“It’s suffered from over 100,000 job cuts since 2010 and if you try to ring a HMRC call centre these days, or try to get your benefits sorted out in the DWP contact centre, then you are going to be in real trouble - because they just do not have the resources to meet their public service obligations.”

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Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan said 72% of civil servants are happy with their working conditions.

DWP staff are expected to come under increasing pressure in the coming months as the government rolls out its controversial Universal Credit programme - consolidating the six main benefits into a single payment. 

O’Connor said civil servants of all levels have been impacted by job losses across a range of departments - the service has shrunk by about a quarter since 2009 - but most of those represented by the PCS are among the junior ranks.

He added: ”Everyone knows there is an excess of workload.  

“All the concerns raised since 2010 have been ignored, because in 2010 there was a conscious political choice made to cut the service in order to reduce the deficit.”

Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan said the 2017 Civil Service People Survey - which asked nearly 300,000 employees about their working conditions - showed 72% agreed they had the skills and support needed to do their jobs, achieved a good work/life balance and had an acceptable workload.

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DWP staff will come under further pressure as Universal Credit is rolled out.

O’Connor said the PCS did not approve of surveys with “single issue questions”.

He added: “What we discourage is surveys of that nature and drawing hard and fast conclusions from that. 

“What we encourage is full dialogue with trade unions on issues that matter to the workforce.”

Other union figures, including Dave Penman and Gareth Hills of the FDA, which represents higher level civil servants and Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, said they felt the service was “resilient” and doing well despite huge challenges. 

The government is facing a pressing need to fill 8,000 civil service jobs, with one third of workers in the Cabinet Office having left last year and turnover at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs more than doubling since 2010.