Universal Credit service centre staff to strike next week

More than 1000 staff at two sites supporting the government’s welfare reforms will strike for 48 hours from next Monday after DWP talks fail

Around 1,500 staff working at two Universal Credit service centres in Glasgow and Bolton will strike for two days next week over concerns about limited IT capabilities and work practices, with further ballots under consideration at other UK sites supporting the welfare reform programme.

According to the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), strike action will begin for 48 hours from Monday July 20 over an alleged lack of resources to support the project, “an oppressive management culture” and inadequate training.

The union has claimed that balloting has not been ruled out at the five other service centres in Bangor, Basildon, Dundee, Makerfield and Middlesbrough, which support the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP’s) flagship reform programme.

Universal Credit has been devised as a means to merge employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit, and housing benefit into a single payment that will be supported by an entirely new IT system.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said Universal Credit was seen as the textbook example of how not to reform essential public services, adding that the DWP’s handling of the project had been “disastrous”, leading to problems for staff.

“These harsher working conditions must be withdrawn, they simply heap more pressure on staff who have battled against poor IT, inadequate training and a lack of resources,” he said in a statement.

PCS claimed that its representatives had met with the DWP last Thursday (July 9) following ballot action approving strikes in an attempt to address staff grievances.

“We put forward some proposals that would provide the cover they need but maintain flexibility for staff – which we feel is just part of being a modern employer – but [the DWP] declined to consider them,” said the union in a statement.

According to the union, a ballot of members working at the two service centres backed strike action by 84% – based on a turnout of 56%. PCS estimates that 80% of staff working at the two Universal Credit service centres are among its members.

However, the DWP clamed today that only a small minority of Universal Credit workers would be taking part in strike action next week.

“The fact is staff are already administering Universal Credit in almost 50% of Jobcentres, and feedback shows they feel supported and confident in delivering this major welfare reform,” said an official statement.

Responding last week to the PCU ballot, the DWP said it would work to ensure Universal Credit continues to run smoothly in the event of any strike action.

The implementation of Universal Credit has continued to prove controversial with the former Coalition government’s handling of the project coming under heavy political and media scrutiny over its proposed budget and timeline. The project was ‘reset’ in 2013 in order to enact a ‘twin-track’ strategy whereby a new enhanced digital service would be developed at the same time that Universal Credit was rolled out nationally by temporarily using existing technology developed for the programme by the DWP.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report released last November said the reset decision was seen as putting the project on a sounder basis – albeit at significant cost.

According to the recently released third Major Projects Authority (MPA) annual report, Universal Credit has been given an amber/red rating based on project data available in September 2014. The rating is given to government projects where successful delivery is believed to be “in doubt” over issues within a number of key areas.

However, the MPA said delivery of Universal Credit was on track based around plans announced last September, with testing brought forward on a number of key initiatives.


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