UNIVERSAL CREDIT ( UC ) : Rollout Schedule * Mines * Sanctions * Changes * Delays * Reports From Infected Manors

All about money
223 posts
DWP staff cut by 21% since universal credit rollout began, figures show.

Exclusive : Ministers accused of making " Reckless and irresponsible " reductions to workforce amid rise in staffing errors that leave claimants " Cleaning out their savings to survive. "



Ministers have been accused of making “reckless” staffing cuts after it emerged the department responsible for welfare benefits has lost 21 per cent of its workforce since the controversial universal credit system was introduced.

Campaigners warned staff in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) were under “intense pressure” to deal with growing workloads after government accounts data revealed the workforce had been reduced by 19,189 since 2013, amounting to a loss of one in five employees.

Universal credit claimants meanwhile said they had been left struggling to put food on the table after being denied financial support they were eligible or ordered to pay back large sums of money due to overpayments made as a result of errors by caseworkers.

It comes after the UK’s spending watchdog revealed fraud and error in the welfare bill were at their highest levels since 2006, with benefit claimants and pensioners losing out on £2bn that they were entitled last year to because officials short-changed them.

Another £1.1bn was overpaid to claimants due to errors by caseworkers, or because the recipient failed to give the right details about their income – through the complex online portal system – on time.


In one case, a couple in Scotland said they were forced to “clean out their savings just to survive” after the DWP made two errors on their benefit calculations in the space of eight months.

Gordon Dunlop, 44, said he and his wife Samantha, 36, both mature students living near Dundee with their two teenage children, had applied for universal credit last September. After submitting all the relevant documents, they were placed on a high award.

But in March, when Mr Dunlop made a minor amendment to their claim due to a small rent increase, he was informed by a caseworker that they had been overpaid, and must repay £7,000 – meaning they received no support over the following months.

In May, Ms Dunlop stopped receiving her student loan, but although the couple informed the DWP of this, their entitlement did not change and they continued to receive no universal credit.

Two months later, the couple were informed they had been underpaid more than £1,000 because the caseworker had made “several errors”.

Mr Dunlop told The Independent: “We had been struggling. We had to use all our savings to try and survive, because we were getting no help from them, and it basically cleaned out all our savings because we had to survive on something. We had to live off food we had stored in the freezer.

“It was just chaos. And it’s extremely stressful. The bills keep rolling in. We worried about how we were going to survive from day to day. And now we’re always fearful that it will happen again.”

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents people working for the government, said the staffing cuts in the DWP had been “hugely detrimental” to the ability of its members to serve the public effectively.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said: “Our members in social security are trying hard in difficult conditions to help universal credit claimants, benefit claimants and the disabled. What they need is a properly resourced department, not cuts and increased workloads.”

Margaret Greenwood, shadow work and pensions secretary, said it was “both reckless and irresponsible” of the DWP to cut staffing by a fifth at the same time as rolling out the “deeply flawed” universal credit programme, and that staff and claimants were suffering as a result.


The Liberal Democrats’ DWP spokesperson, Christine Jardine, echoed the remarks, saying it was “astonishing” to see the department cut its workforce to such an extent when “so many people are suffering from DWP’s blunders”.

Abby Jitendra, policy and research manager at the food bank provider the Trussell Trust, said: “It’s really important that a big change to that system, like universal credit, is done right. Making sure there are enough frontline staff to give people a personalised service is crucial.


“Universal credit should be protecting people from needing a food bank – but we need to make sure it’s properly resourced if it’s to do so.”

It comes after it emerged in March that work coaches – the frontline staff in jobcentres – are going to be handed bigger workloads to reduce costs, with their caseload set to rise from around 130 to more than 280 by 2024-25.

Meanwhile, ministers were recently accused of “wasting huge chunks of desperately needed resources” after a £200,000 newspaper advertorial vowing to “set the record straight” on universal credit was published on the same day charities revealed claimants were “selling sex to survive”.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are focused on the quality of support we provide and the vast majority of people are satisfied with the service they get from us, with universal credit offering better personalised support.”
Daily Mirror ... part of their " Road to Wigan Pier " series :


Image


Since Universal Credit came in the food bank has been packed : My Wigan Pier Story.

As part of our Road to Wigan Pier project, eight decades after the publication of George Orwell's essay, Coventry Food Bank project manager Hugh McNeill, explains how visitor numbers have soared since the introduction of Universal Credit.



When his restaurant closed in December 2013, Hugh McNeill turned to Coventry Food Bank to feed his family. Unable to get paid work, he started to volunteer there before becoming project manager in 2014. He tells Maryam Qaiser how the switch to Universal Credit has left people needing the service more than ever.

Since the introduction of Universal Credit, we have seen a significant rise in people coming to Coventry Food Bank - and these people have been coming back a number of times.

Universal Credit is a benefit which is applied for online and if you are not computer literate, it can cause real problems. Some people haven't applied because they simply don't know how to operate a computer.

Universal Credit has had a real negative impact for many people, it is quite a complex process. When you apply for it because you lose all your benefits for five weeks, so the transition to Universal Credit can cause a lot of undue hardship on families.

We work with around 358 agencies who refer people to us, including single parents, people with mental health issues, disabilities and hard-working families, who are in jobs but still struggling and homeless people.

In 2016/17 we saw 15,500 people use the food banks in Coventry, but there was a steep rise in 2018/19 to 22,100, following the role out of Universal Credit.

Some people we see are really hard-working but they still rely on help from food banks because they just can't afford to put food on the table. They feel like they are carrying such a burden.

n the past six months alone, we have seen 12,000 people coming through our doors – that is quite a steep rise.

Over the years Coventry has seen a decline in the number of jobs available locally, particularly since Brexit and the housing market for rent has risen sharply. The cost of living has gone up, while peoples earnings have stagnated.
" Halt universal credit pilot " MSPs tell UK government.

MSPs are calling for a stop to the next stage in the rollout of universal credit over fears about the impact it will have.



The next phase of the new benefit's implementation is due to start in Yorkshire this month.

For the first time it involves people on existing benefits being moved to universal credit.

One MSP warned the scheme had been "littered with mistakes" since being introduced in 2013.

MSPs on the Scottish Parliament's social security committee have told the UK government they want more clarity around the impact the move will have on those affected.


'Deeply concerned'

In March, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd confirmed claimants in Harrogate who still receive the old-style benefits will be the first people to be moved to universal credit under a pilot scheme starting this month.

The benefit was previously introduced gradually across the country for people making new claims.

Committee convener, SNP MSP Bob Doris, warned the scheme was not working and said the pilot scheme should be stopped.

He said: "We are deeply concerned that despite raising this issue as part of the committee's In-Work Poverty Inquiry with the DWP in January, and the UK government's failure to appear at our committee to give evidence, they have carried on with plans for implementation regardless."

He added: "This movement represents a huge cultural shift and we do not believe it is right to sanction the working poor, effectively punishing people for going to their work.

"The DWP has said they are currently taking a 'light touch' approach to in-work conditionality or sanctions but there is little confidence that when the system rolls out more widely that low paid and part-time workers won't suffer as a result.

"The rollout of universal credit has been littered with mistakes and it is vital that this latest pilot is put on hold to ensure that there is no negative impact upon claimants who rely on this money."

The committee has also stated its opposition in principle to attaching punitive conditions to those already in work.


Speaking at the time of the announcement of the pilot in March, Amber Rudd said: "Moving people from the old and outdated benefits system to universal credit is a positive and important moment.

"Once on universal credit people will benefit from a more personal service and can expect to receive up to six benefits combined into one, making it easier for them to manage their money.

"But the switch needs to be done carefully which is why we are taking a step-by-step approach to this, starting in Harrogate.

"I want to be sure that the switch to universal credit is a hassle-free process for claimants and everyone receives the personalised service they deserve."

A DWP spokesperson said: "We are taking a measured approach to moving people to Universal Credit from the old system, working with expert stakeholders to ensure vulnerable and complex claimants are fully supported.

"We will also consult with Parliament before extending the process to more people."


223 posts