Harsh Tory regime for benefit claimants and workers – we need a union fightback

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PCS member in DWP

The Tory government is driving a harsh regime; both for those on benefits and for our PCS trade union members delivering these vital public services.

Throughout the pandemic PCS members delivered services remotely and safely, as well as providing a face-to-face service for any claimants who could not use the remote channels. PCS health and safety reps pushed tirelessly for everyone’s safety to be paramount.

Since April, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) ministers have ignored safety and instigated rigid targets on seeing claimants face to face. This has meant dragging both our members and the public back into the jobcentres for no genuine purpose.

People are being crammed into Jobcentres using all the desks, regardless of the Covid-19 risks. The pressure on our Work Coach members (staff who provide one-to-one support for claimants) has been ramped up since April, with now up to 20 mandatory interviews being booked in each day.

There is no scope for our members to tailor the support to what each claimant needs. Many interviews are just ten minutes, which is more about making the individual travel into the Jobcentre and hit a statistical target, rather than allow time for any meaningful support.

The impossible targets bear no relation to what the claimant register is like in the local area and what support is needed. The government is attempting to mask the failure of the money it has thrown at private sector support for the unemployed with targets on Restart referrals.

18-24 year-olds are especially under the spotlight, and booked in for numerous appointments each week, regardless of what would help them find work. In fact, senior managers are putting huge pressure on our members just to get young people claiming Universal Credit onto the Kickstart scheme (where the government funds jobs in the private sector) in preference to them finding a job.

Employers have also jumped at the chance of getting free labour. Tory ministers clearly want the numerous, pointless appointments to set claimants up to fail if they do not attend, as a means to ramp up harsh welfare penalties, like sanctions, to force people off benefits and into any sort of job, however unsuitable.

Thousands of DWP workers delivering services have temporary contracts themselves due to end in June next year. This is to fit in with rosy Tory projections of economic recovery and helps keep the workforce feeling insecure.

The DWP was already massively understaffed before the pandemic, and PCS Broad Left Network members are campaigning for all temporary staff to be made permanent and a recruitment drive to deal with the huge workloads that show no sign of reducing.

There is real potential for joint trade union campaigning in our local communities on what services we need to help people find work, and on the quality of jobs. Workers are getting organised to demand improvements to pay and conditions as the pandemic has exposed how vital workers are.

The Youth Fight for Jobs campaign, initiated by the Socialist Party, can play a key role in campaigning with the young unemployed being targeted by the government, and unite them with the PCS DWP members who want to deliver quality services to the public, and to raise everyone’s sights about what is needed.