News : Universal Credit Staff Go On Strike in Protest Against ‘Oppressive' Culture
London, UK, July 13, 2015 -- Call centre staff in charge of helping people through the Tories' welfare reforms are going on strike in a protest against their 'increasingly oppressive' working culture.
Nearly 1,500 Universal Credit workers are walking out after complaining of staff shortages, poor training and money 'squandered' on IT that wasn't used.
They claim they're being given unrealistic targets as the government's flagship reform is rolled out across Britain - over its original deadline and budget.
Bolton and Glasgow staff will walk out for 48 hours next Monday and Tuesday after 84% of Public and Commercial Services Union members voted for a strike.
The turnout was 56%.
The strike could spread to other Universal Credit service centres in Bangor, Basildon, Dundee, Makerfield and Middlesbrough, union bosses say.
It's the latest in a string of blows to Iain Duncan Smith's bid to roll a package of benefits into one 'simple' payment.
The cost of Universal Credit has soared to almost £16bn and it will now take 9 years, a damning watchdog report found last month.
Huge costs include £40m which was spent on computer code which then wasn't used - with officials admitting in 2013 it'd end up having 'no value'.
And a PCS survey earlier this year found 90% of staff still had concerns the IT system wouldn't be good enough.
A think tank has also picked holes in the welfare reform itself, saying cracks in the system will leave some people not wanting to look for work.
And one undercover reporter in the Bolton call centre, where workers are now going on strike, said he was told not to mention an emergency fund unless callers asked about it.
A trainer was recorded telling him: "It's a bit like Fight Club - we don't discuss what happens in Fight Club.
"So you don't talk about flexible support fund either."
Next week's walkout will be followed by an overtime ban running until August 18.
The union claims the Department for Work and Pensions isn't giving the scheme enough resources and has performed a 'massive scaling back' of flexible working hours.
General secretary Mark Serwotka said: "The introduction of universal credit has been a textbook example of how not to reform essential public services.
"The DWP's handling of every aspect of it has been disastrous.
"These harsher working conditions must be withdrawn.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."
The PCS said the Glasgow and Bolton call centres are the two 'original' hubs where more than half of Universal Credit workers are employed.
But a Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "Only a small minority of Universal Credit workers will be taking part in strike action.
"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."
The DWP said payments would continue if the strike goes ahead.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Universal Credit:
Universal Credit is a welfare benefit launched in the United Kingdom in 2013 to replace six means-tested benefits and tax credits: Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support.
Published: Tuesday, July 14, 2015