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Universal Credit in chaos as workers ballot for strike

UNIVERSAL CREDIT has been thrown into fresh chaos after hundreds of workers on the scheme announced a ballot for strike action today against “unmanageable” workloads.

More than 700 people working on implementing the controversial welfare service will be balloting to walk out over issues including poor staff recruitment and widespread frustrations with the workload expected of them by management.

If members vote to walk out, two strikes would take place on March 11 and 12.

The strike would be the first industrial action against the way the benefit “reform” — which has been criticised across the political spectrum and slammed by disability rights groups — is being delivered.

The staff, members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, work at government sites in Wolverhampton and Walsall.

They are demanding that the government immediately recruits 5,000 new workers to the scheme and introduces a maximum limit on the number of phone calls for benefit cases each day.

PCS says members want serious improvements to the internal culture that currently exists between workers and management and insist that there must be no serious changes in the UC offices without proper consultation with the workers and the union.

The workers are also demanding an end to what the union describes as a “management by statistics” culture, which they say discourages a quality-focused approach to solving problems.

They are also seeking permanent contracts for fixed-term staff concerned about the casual nature of their work.

The news comes after Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd conceded that the scheme has increased the use of food banks among casually employed people.

She has since admitted that there have “undoubtedly” been problems with the scheme, which has been opposed by disability rights campaigners since its creation in 2010.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The possibility of a strike by universal credit staff should serve as a wake-up call to ministers who have repeatedly insisted universal credit is working well for workers and claimants when the opposite is in fact the case.

“Our members have not taken the decision to ballot lightly but the responsibility for the breakdown in industrial relations lies squarely with the government who want to run this service into the ground while treating staff with contempt.”

Bob Ellard of Disabled People Against Cuts told the Star: “Universal Credit is a disaster for claimants, it is a regime which was designed from inception to be a hostile environment for disabled people and non-disabled people alike.

“It is also a disaster for the people who have to work on it.

“Universal Credit is a failed system. It needs to be stopped and scrapped immediately, and the staff returned to working on the ‘legacy’ benefit systems, which, while far from acceptable, are at least functioning.”

The ballot will close on February 25.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We are disappointed that PCS has chosen to take this course of action and planned meetings with the union are ongoing.

“Our top priority remains assessing and making payments to customers.

“We are comfortable with current staffing levels and will monitor and reallocate resource where necessary.”

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