Jobcentre Plus, photo Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

Jobcentre Plus, photo Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Katrine Williams, PCS DWP rep (personal capacity)

Resistance must be built to Tory attacks on the unemployed. In their drive to ramp up their harsh welfare system, they are prepared to put everyone’s safety at risk. They plan to drag every claimant back into Jobcentres for even more mandatory interviews, especially 18-24 year olds.

All safety measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus and protect both the public and PCS members in Jobcentres are under threat – including using every desk to put everyone in close proximity, failing to address inadequate ventilation, and slashing the additional cleaning.

A flawed risk assessment review process was deliberately rushed through during peak summer leave. Local managers have been forced to open up all the desks previously marked as unsafe to use, regardless of their misgivings and safety reps’ opposition due to the risk.

Enormous pressure is being put on PCS members in Jobcentres to work to meaningless targets on the numbers of claimants being seen, cramming in as many interviews as possible, and getting claimants on schemes which bear no relation to the support that individuals need. Many of the 13,000 extra staff recruited into the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to help people get work are on insecure, temporary contracts themselves.

While our members are being put under unbearable pressure, and union branches are abandoned to fight on their own, the PCS DWP group leadership are devising any method to keep kicking the can down the road rather than give a decisive lead.

By contrast, PCS Broad Left Network members in DWP are encouraging branches to mobilise members to collectively challenge the employer, to utilise health and safety rights and, crucially, put pressure on the union leadership to act.

We are also promoting joint campaigning with claimant organisations to fight against the common enemy. Building support for the Youth Fight for Jobs protests on the 9 October is an ideal way to build the pressure on the government and highlight the demands we have in common:

Safety for all must be paramount while delivering quality, tailored support for claimants and ensuring benefits are paid on time in DWP

Fighting for decent, safe permanent jobs on a real living wage for all, including all the temporary staff in the DWP and public sector, to directly recruit workers and stop use of agency workers

Fight for the uplift on Universal Credit to be retained as part of a campaign for a fully resourced, supportive, public social security system