Universal Credit staff 'not equipped' to deal with domestic abuse

By agency reporter
May 30, 2018

Following evidence on Universal Credit from one of the architects of the major welfare reform, Iain Duncan Smith, in Parliament last week, the Work and Pensions Committee is publishing evidence from the front-line DWP staff union that shows JCP staff do not feel equipped to deal with critical issues like domestic abuse and the financial control that can go with it.

The current strand of the Committee's major, ongoing inquiry into the design and implementation of Universal Credit is investigating the impact of the single-household payment on survivors of domestic abuse, reflecting concerns that the single household payment plays into the hands of a controlling, abusive partner.

The comprehensive evidence from the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union, who surveyed a number of their Members in preparing their response to the Committee including both front line staff who are dealing with UC claims and, for example, DWP UC trainers, states categorically that "Members do not feel confident that they have the skills to deal with Domestic Abuse cases due to the lack of meaningful training".

Their evidence states: "Work coaches may be supportive and encouraging and be able to signpost the claimant to help, but while the claimant is still living in the abusive household, the coach cannot implement the official 'easement'"– lifting benefit conditionality for a period for abuse victims – and in keeping with evidence from expert groups like Women’s Aid, PCS continues "for claimants still in the household experiencing financial controlling abuse, a split payment of UC is not necessarily helpful or indeed realistic or safe to implement. The claimant would need to be able to 'explain' the reason for a split payment to the abusive partner, and would need to set up their own bank account – difficult in itself – in order to receive the money. A split payment of the UC personal allowance element also causes any UC rent element to be paid directly to the landlord which potentially ties the claimant to the household further."

The Committee also heard on Wednesday evidence that clearly pointed to a gap between the theory and rhetoric of UC delivery, and the reality. The Trussel Trust, for example, who have documented a 52 per cent upsurge in demand at the food banks they run in UC rollout areas, pointed out that vital components of the 'Universal Support' intended to help people transition to UC’s single household, monthly payment – such as advice and support on managing debt – is not actually being delivered.

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said: "Another disturbing front is opening up in the implementation of the Government’s flagship welfare reform policy Universal Credit.

"Up until now, the focus has been on how brutally some constituents are treated once they are pushed onto Universal Credit. Now we have the views from the other side of the counter, of those civil servants who try loyally to carry out the Government’s wishes.

"The lack of training and expertise at the front line in JCPs is a thread running through all of our benefits inquiries – and now it is becoming apparent to the public how this is leaving them unprepared to deal with the most vulnerable claimants."

* Read the letter from PCS union to the Committee here

* Work and Pensions Committee https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/

[Ekk/6]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.