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Welfare system overwhelmed by tens of thousands of benefit claims

LABOUR called on the government today to bring back thousands of benefits staff laid off over a decade of cuts, in order to cope with unprecedented numbers of new claimants. 

Tens of thousands of people affected by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic have faced serious problems applying for universal credit in the past week. 

About 477,000 claims have been processed in the last seven days, the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) announced today. 

More than 100,000 were stuck in the queue to verify online applications on Tuesday alone, and thousands more waited for hours to speak to benefits staff over the phone. 

Claimants took to social media to voice their frustration, with one Twitter user saying they had spent more than 15 hours over three days waiting to speak to a benefits official. 

The DWP said that about 10,000 existing staff would be redeployed to process new claims. “In addition, the department is expecting to recruit 1,500 extra people to aid the effort,” a statement said.

However, shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood argued that the DWP should rehire laid-off staff to meet the huge demand. 

“Unprecedented numbers of working people are having to access the social-security system for the very first time because of the health emergency,” she said. “It is vital that people get the support that they need in the face of this crisis.

“The DWP has cut tens of thousands of posts since 2010. The government should look at calling people back into employment during this crisis to make sure people can get the support they need in good time.”

Cuts to public services over the last 10 years are increasingly coming back to haunt the government during the crisis, with hospitals, social care and now the welfare system ill-prepared to cope with the fallout from the pandemic. 

Since 2013, Tory austerity has resulted in the DWP losing almost 20,000 staff, reducing the workforce by 21 per cent. 

Public-service union PCS, which represents benefits staff, said the sector was “still suffering the legacy of austerity which has left offices already understaffed.” 

General secretary Mark Serwotka told the Morning Star that the union was working with the DWP to rectify this.

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