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Employment

DWP staff are having to claim benefits themselves

“A lot of people claiming universal credit won’t think that people on the other end of the phone might be claiming it” one civil servant told the Big Issue.

Nearly one in 10 frontline civil servants, including those working in the Department for Work and Pensions, are on benefits to boost their pay as the cost of living crisis drags more and more people into financial trouble.

One case worker who handles universal credit claims told the Big Issue they had applied for the benefit themselves when their rent increased earlier this year, with the extra £110 helping pay their bills. 

The new research from the PCS union of civil and public servants across all government departments also found four in 10 had taken out a loan or used credit to pay for essential shopping. 

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Universal credit is calculated according to an individual’s own circumstances and takes into account a person’s income and living costs. The number of people claiming universal credit doubled from 2.8 million in January 2020 to 5.6 million in January 2022.

The full-time Department for Work and Pensions employee, who wished to remain anonymous, lives alone with no dependents. But the cost of renting a studio apartment meant they were entitled to claim the benefit, which allows them to pay their bills and rent without fear of eviction or having services cut off. With energy bills going up again in the autumn, they say they’ll have to cut back on heating.

“What I‘m getting on universal credit would probably have run (the meter) last winter, but with the energy prices going up again, it’s not going to cover it this year, no way,” they told the Big Issue. 

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“How is someone working full time, a single person with no dependents, having to claim universal credit? Their income should suffice.”

“A lot of people claiming universal credit won’t think that people on the other end of the phone might be claiming it.

They added: “There’s an irony in that I’m dishing out the benefit that I’m claiming.”

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Civil servants’ pay rises were capped at 3 per cent this year, with most receiving a 2 per cent raise, despite surging inflation. The PCS research found that 8 per cent are using food banks and one in three have skipped meals because they have no food. 

The Big Issue has teamed up with Gordon Brown as the former prime minister calls on the government to take urgent action to prevent a “poverty time bomb” going off in October.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “PCS members worked tirelessly during the pandemic to keep the country running, paying out benefits to almost two and a half million families, helping them to put food on their table and keep a roof over their head. 

“But now they’re struggling to put food on their own tables as the cost-of-living crisis hits home.  

Boris Johnson announced in May that he planned to cut 91,000 civil service jobs to save the government money, claiming this could be achieved without harming major frontline services.

Tory leadership hopeful Liz Truss then announced that if she were PM she would change the rate of civil servants’ pay to match it more closely to local rates, which would have seen many government employees outside of London and the south east receive a pay cut. She quickly U-turned on the policy after outcry across the political spectrum.

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Commenting on the Conservative leadership race, Serotka said that civil servants were being treated as “political pawns used by politicians”. 

“As the Conservative leadership contenders squabble over what tax cuts to make, the same civil servants who will be asked to deliver their policies are being cast adrift,” Serotka added. 

“They must be given an above-inflation pay rise to help them with the rising costs of food and fuel.” 

A government spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressures families across the country are facing due to rising prices caused by global challenges. That’s why we have continually taken action to help households by phasing in £37billion worth of support throughout the year.  

“This package will see millions of the most vulnerable households receive at least £1,200 of support in total this year to help with the cost of living, with all domestic electricity customers receiving at least £400 to help with their bills.   

“We are also providing public sector workers with the highest uplifts in nearly twenty years, targeted towards the lowest paid – with civil servants receiving a pay rise in the next year.

“The public rightly expect that taxpayer-funded services are delivered as effectively as possible and existing backlogs cleared. Ministers and the Cabinet Secretary have been clear about the benefits of face to face, collaborative working, to civil servants and all taxpayers alike.”

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