An additional 30,000 jobs at the Department for Work and Pensions are needed to meet current demand, which a union claims is affecting the mental health of employees.
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has requested an urgent meeting with work and pensions secretary Mel Stride and DWP permanent secretary Peter Schofield to discuss what the union believes is a “staffing crisis” at the government department.
PCS received more than 250 responses to a survey among DWP staff, which asked about how staff shortages were impacting them and the quality of work they were able to deliver.
It found that employees were struggling with “impossible” workloads, resulting in high levels of turnover, with one respondent claiming that staff shortages in the summer meant that “every day felt like drowning”.
“At worst, it pushed me to self-harm and heavy contemplation of suicide,” the worker said.
DWP staff shortages
Another wrote: “As a work coach who has been at the DWP for over 20 years, I can honestly say I cannot remember stress levels ever being as bad. We are being asked to do more and more in less and less time.”
As the government attempts to reduce the levels of economic inactivity in the UK and get more people with long-term illnesses and disabilities into employment via its controversial back-to-work plan and other similar schemes, workloads at the DWP have significantly increased.
PCS DWP group president Martin Cavanagh said: “Unacceptable workloads caused by the staffing crisis are creating an epidemic of mental health and failing to protect some of the most vulnerable citizens in society.
“Poor working conditions, particularly in Jobcentres where staff are refused the opportunity to work from home, means that staff are either leaving the DWP or attempting to find roles they find less stressful.
“In the short term, we’re demanding the DWP urgently reconsiders its priorities to ensure work is prioritised to deal with issues impacting on vulnerable citizens. In the longer-term, PCS is demanding there are enough staff to ensure there is a social security system that provides a genuine safety net for its citizens.”
The union claimed that DWP had assured union leaders that it would be recruiting around 5,000 new staff per quarter. However, in the seven months since these assurances were made, headcount has not increased by more than 1,000. It added that jobcentres are understaffed by 25%.
PCS is set to deliver a dossier with the responses it received to DWP headquarters today.
A DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting the wellbeing of our staff, and provide access to a comprehensive range of assistance for their physical and mental health.
“We have recruitment plans in place to maintain key services – providing excellent opportunities for existing staff and new recruits who are playing a vital role in our next generation welfare reforms to help thousands back into jobs, grow the economy and drive down inflation.”
Last month civil servants were told they would have to spend at least 60% of their week working in offices.