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Almost a million new universal credit applicants putting massive strain on staff, warns PCS

THE unprecedented increase of almost a million new universal credit (UC) applicants during the coronavirus outbreak is putting a massive strain on benefit workers, PCS warned today.

The 950,000 people applying for much-needed support reflects a fall in income and a rise in unemployment as firms go bust or lay off staff because they cannot wait for the government retention scheme to begin making payments.

Typically there are only 100,000 applicants for UC in a two-week period.

PCS said that it had serious concerns about how staff and the system would cope with the demand. 

The union warned that the 10,000 extra staff being moved into process new claims were “simply not enough.”

Currently 40 per cent of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff are not at work as they are self-isolating or classed as vulnerable. 

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka paid tribute to union members working in the DWP during the crisis, putting themselves at risk by coming into their workplaces. 

“Without them, new claimants would not be able to access vital support,” he said.

 “A decade of austerity has made it extremely difficult for our members to deal with this huge upsurge of claimants.”

Mr Serwotka added that a lack of equipment, staffing shortages and poor health and safety around dealing with Covid-19 has exacerbated the situation.

“Ministers need to invest in our social-security system as a national priority so our members can continue to deliver for the most vulnerable,” he said.

PCS also warned of a need for policy change as many people who work in insecure jobs do not have the safety net of savings to fall back on while they wait five weeks for their first UC payment.

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