Welfare Reform and Universal Credit

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2012 Local Government Service Group Conference
1 January 2012


Welfare Reform and Universal Credit

This conference recognises that the ConDem government are intent on undermining the welfare state through the provisions of the Welfare Reform Act. These proposals will have a significant impact on Housing Workers and Benefit Staff in Local Government across the UK. These proposals will adversely impact on jobs, terms & conditions and the work they undertake on behalf of the public.

This conference is concerned about the introduction of Universal Credit and the profound changes to the benefits system that could affect over 1 million people in the first 6 months alone and by 2017 may be relied on by as many as 19 million people – approximately 40% of the population. In particular we are concerned about the impact of Universal Credit changes on disabled people who claim, or may claim Working Tax Credit, Housing Benefit and/or Income Support – this includes disabled local government staff.

UNISON policy has long documented the impact of disability on the living standards of disabled people as a result of the additional cost of disability and how the benefits system has failed to keep pace with the additional costs relating to accessible transport, fuel poverty, the privatisation of social care, adapted and accessible homes as well as the poor chances of economic independence due to the extent of disability discrimination in the workplace. UNISON believes that the introduction of a Universal Credit could fail to take people out of economic inactivity, exacerbate poverty and underpin deeper foundations for disability discrimination.

Proposals for Universal Credit will compound the gulf between disabled and non-disabled people because government has paid too little attention to how services will be reached by disabled users and how services will be delivered by disabled local government workers.

Conference is concerned that the introduction of Universal Credit could result in 20,000 housing benefit staff facing redundancy if an effective service delivery model is not created. This would affect unitary and metropolitan authorities, but particularly District Councils as a high proportion of their workforce is in combined revenues and benefits departments.

Conference is also concerned about the knock-on impact on other UNISON members, as council finances are threatened by costs of redundancy payments, broken service contracts where services are outsourced, and higher homelessness costs as vulnerable service users are cast adrift by a ‘digital by default’ access to universal credit.

At the moment there are no answers to the following basic questions about the Universal Credit service:

Will processes will be accessible for a disabled person to apply locally?

What documents will they need and will accessible documentation be available for staff and applicants?

Will the local ‘Universal Credit’ office accommodate the environmental access needs of staff and applicants?

Will staffing levels be appropriate to deliver an efficient quality service that’s fit for purpose?

How will the training and development needs of disabled staff be met?

Will staffing levels secure employment for disabled employees?

What processes will be in place to ensure services and facilities can be provided to support disabled staff and give service users assistance in a face to face situation if there is a problem?

All the indications so far are that government is not even planning to deliver a local service and this will directly impact on the job opportunities of disabled staff and local services users, potentially resulting in even greater social exclusion, increased poverty, disability discrimination and a breakdown of communities.

Conference believes that a high quality service cannot be provided to vulnerable clients simply over the internet, and a local delivery arm using the experience of housing benefit staff is irreplaceable. Housing benefit staff should be retained as part of delivering universal credit, either by local authorities or by TUPE transferring into DWP teams, under a TUPE plus agreement.

Conference welcomes the decision by the Scottish Parliament to reject these reforms and legislate separately on the limited areas with the devolved competence and the initial decision that fraud staff would remain locally based and directly employed by local authorities whilst working as part of the Single Fraud Investigation Service.

Conference therefore calls on the Service Group Executive to:

1) Oppose these detrimental Reforms;

2) Work with regions, branches, local authorities, Labour Link, MPs, Scottish and Welsh Governments, Councillors, Professional Organisations and Service Users to secure a strong local delivery arm for universal credit, using local authorities and a sustained long-term role for local authorities in the delivery of a rights and benefits service that includes a localised Universal Credit and Modified Pension Credit service that enables people to apply, resolve enquiries, get assistance and process documentation locally;

3) Work with the National Disabled Members’ Self Organised Group to initiate discussions with government and employers about

a) How the local service will meet the needs of disabled staff with regard to terms, workplace locations and job functions such as interviewing clients and the accessibility of information management systems.

b) How local provision will meet the needs of disabled service users, both in the community and for those disabled local government workers who may wish to apply for financial or other support – issues to consider include the accessibility of the application system, the personal and financial cost of applying to use the service, data protection measures to guard against identity theft and measures needed to ensure an appeals procedure does not institutionalise discrimination against disabled people.

4) Mobilise our members in the campaign and liaise with other Service Groups affected;

5) Mobilise and organise staff in housing benefit departments to campaign to maintain a quality service, and to recruit and ensure UNISON members are well organised and our members and branches so if there is a transfer they are ready and prepared;

6) Intensify our campaign of informing MPs, councillors, MSPs and AMs about the potential impact of failing to have a proper delivery mechanism for universal credit;

7) Provide adequate resources, advice and guidance to the devolved nations;

8) Secure legal advice on the application of TUPE and campaign to ensure TUPE applies to any transfer of responsibilities between local authorities and DWP.

9) Provide advice and guidance on the protection of members’ pension entitlements.

10) Engage with pilots on involving local authorities in delivering universal credit at local level;

11) Investigate ways of enabling and supporting branches to take lawful industrial action in defence of benefit jobs and/or to maintain the identity of their employer.

Scotland Region (22)

Northern Region (19)

Manchester Branch (19.1)

Ealing Local Government (19.2)

National Disabled Members Committee (23)