Universal Credit Service Centre workers in PCS at the Walsall and Wolverhampton offices are the first to ballot for strike action over staffing levels and capacity within the Universal Credit operations in DWP.
Members have long standing grievances with DWP bosses over a horrific lack of staff (their demand is for at least 5000 new staff to cope with the workload), a reduction in the amount of calls per day each worker is expected to handle and an end to the draconian target driven culture in offices.
While the employer has finally accepted that staffing levels are too low and announced extra funding for 19/20. This is too little too late and does not address the cultural and managerial changes needed to reduce stress and pressure on staff.
The wider political context is that Universal Credit is an underfunded, poorly designed system which is creating significant hardship for claimants. Claimants which now include the very DWP employees tasked with administering it.
Once the ballot is won, the labour movement should swing wholeheartedly behind these workers. Winning more union jobs in the Service Centres and opposing draconian and stressful target culture will end up supporting claimants. But both we and PCS members are clear, this is will not be the end of the battle to fundamentally reform universal credit as a system into a true universal benefit which is substantially increased and free from discrimination, conditionality and
where eligibility is instant.
UC action day
Friday 1 March will be a national day of action against Universal Credit.
Campaigning on the issue has been patchy, as the benefit is being rolled out slowly across the UK. Unite Community have been active on the issue for some time, and in cities around the UK.
Claimants have had long waits for money, had difficulty negotiating online applications, got into debt and rent arrears, been forced into using food banks and lost money. About 1.6 million people are on Universal Credit now. The Tories have delayed implementation, but eventually around seven million people, half of all families with children, are scheduled to go onto the new benefit.
One event on 1 March, from a particularly active local campaign, organised by Sheffield Trade Council, will be calling for “Stop and Scrap”, at a rally in Hartshead Square from 12 noon. However there is no consensus among campaigners about whether to “stop and scrap” (i.e. revert to the old system of multiple benefits) or seek to continue the idea of merging benefits in a changed form. The Labour Party is calling for “pause and fix”, although Jeremy Corbyn recently pledged a Labour government would introduce something radically different. A popular Daily Mirror petition calls for a review to take place and for the system to be axed if it is unfixable.
Unfortunately, it appears far-right populists are getting involved in campaigns about Universal Credit, organising a rally on 1 March in Parliament Square, London. To stop vulnerable people from being politically taken in by those people, the labour movement also needs to crank up its activity.