NEWS 2021

21 December 2021 | Branch AGM

The Branch AGM for Bolton SC and Bolton Jobcentres will be held on 04/03/2022 from 13:00 to 14:00 via TEAMS.
Further details and an agenda will follow closer to the date.

PCS would like to request nominations for who you would like to be a representative and any motions for us to consider at the 2022 Bury and Bolton Branch AGM (Motions are suggestions for us to consider regarding improvements or suggestions in working conditions at the SC or your Jobcentre or within DWP nationally).

The closing date for these nominations and motions is the 15th of January 2022.

Please find a nominations form here.

Please return your nominations forms via email to: BOLTON.TRADEUNIONREP@DWP.GOV.UK

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21 December 2021
Fit Notes:
Temporary change allows employees to self-certificate for up to 28 days up to and including 26/01/22

To: All Members and GEC  - DWP/MB/140/21

DWP has implemented a temporary change for Fit Notes following Government guidance for Fit Notes which was updated on 17/12/21.

Amendment to the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) Regulations

A recent amendment to the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) Regulations allows employees to self-certificate for up to 28 days if they go off sick after 10 December 2021 up to and including 26 January 2022. To maximise GPs capacity to manage the vaccine booster program, DWP has made a temporary change to the requirement for it’s own employees to provide fit notes during this time in all circumstances:

• For any sickness which began on or after 10 December 2021, the employee is able to self certificate for an absence up to 26th January 2022.

• For any sickness absence which began before 10 December, which would now normally require a GP medical certificate, the employee must provide self certification instead. This will be the case for absences up to 26th January.

See DWP Coronavirus HR policy guidance, paragraph 4.2b:

PCS advice, support, and representation
Contact your local PCS Representative for advice, support and representation for your personal case. Members with urgent enquiries may also contact leeds@pcs.org.uk

PCS continue to hold the safety of our members as our highest priority. If you know of non-members that will benefit from joining PCS, please point them to the PCS website to join online.

David Burke - Group Assistant Secretary
Bridget Corcoran - Group Assistant Secretary
Angela Grant - Group Vice President

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9 December 2021 | Plan B – Impact of Changes in Covid Restrictions on PCS members in DWP

Last night (Wednesday 8 December), the Prime Minister confirmed that England will move to Plan B following the rapid spread of the Omicron COVID variant. As part of the announcement, the Prime Minister stated that, in England, from Monday, people should work from home if they can. PCS has been arguing for exactly this for weeks.

Following pressure from PCS, the DWP had already agreed to follow the guidance from the devolved Governments, that has already made it explicit for some while, that those who can do should work from home.

Whilst these measures are welcome, they do not go far enough because the DWP are still insisting that Jobcentre staff must work in offices and do face to face interviews.

Hold Members meetings and send us your concerns
All union branches are asked to hold members meetings to discuss these Jobcentre safety concerns. Members are encouraged to send their concerns to Leeds@pcs.org.uk to tell the union how they feel about the DWP’s insistence that they carry on with face to face working.

How the DWP interprets the Government’s changes
In light of the change in position by the Government the DWP Permanent Secretary has stated “from Friday 10 December onwards, DWP colleagues in England in non-customer-facing corporate and back of house roles should work from home if they can.” This statement clarifies the confusing messages that members in England have received up to now.

Jobcentre Safety
Even before the announcement PCS asked the DWP that they seriously consider what they can do to help staff to work from home while so much is unknown about the Omicron COVID variant. They flatly refused to consider our very reasonable suggestion.

The DWP are not treating the safety of Jobcentre staff seriously, invoking the idea that Jobcentre staff are “key workers” and cannot do their jobs remotely, despite Jobcentre members proving this wrong for many months when many worked from home. Insisting that members of the public attend, often short and pointless interviews, in what appears to be a stats chasing exercise, is playing Russian Roulette with the safety of staff and the public.

PCS believe the approach to Jobcentre staff in England, Scotland and Wales is unacceptable and we will continue to campaign for these members to have the opportunity of home working.

Martin Cavanagh, Group President
Mark Page, Full Time Officer

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8 December 2021 | PCS pressure wins permanent jobs for 6,000 AO fixed term contract staff
DWP/MB/133/21 To: All Members in Department for Work & Pensions Group

PCS has been arguing with the DWP to make the thousands of Fixed Term Appointment (FTA) and temporary staff permanent for months. DWP has finally agreed to make nearly all of the 6,000 AO FTA and temporary staff permanent.

Join the union
All FTA staff are encouraged to join the union now to get the union behind you in your permanent job and help us campaign for more permanent jobs.

There are three categories that AO FTAs will be in:

1) All AO FTA and Temporary staff on a site will be offered a permanent contract.
This will be the case across 446 sites and for 5348 staff.

2) All AO FTA and Temporary colleagues on a site will be offered a permanent contract but at an alternative specified site.
This will be the case across 24 sites and for 660 colleagues.

3) AO and FTA colleagues on the site will not be offered permanence, and their contracts will end as planned.
This will be the case across 9 sites and for 183 colleagues.

This represents a major victory for PCS following the unions success in getting the 1,800 Brook Street agency workers permanent contracts in the DWP.

PCS recognise that the decision will not suit all FTA AO staff. We will continue to press DWP to exercise more flexibility for those members who will only be offered a specified site. Unfortunately, DWP was not prepared to share the details of where the alternative offer would be for these staff.

We will also continue to argue for permanent jobs for those currently being told that their contracts will end.

Further negotiations
Members will have questions about where and why staff are being offered permanent contracts, changes of workplace, and sites where the Department are not prepared to make FTA staff permanent. This is further complicated by recent communications in respect of what is happening with the so-called Transition Sites.

DWP assured DTUS that all decisions on FTA extensions had been taken with a view to the wider estate position, and consideration was given to the likely impact of future estate decisions. However, they did not believe that they were in a position to give us a detailed estate picture at this time. This was particularly frustrating, and we made it clear that this will generate uncertainty and speculation amongst members. PCS has asked the DWP to provide a comprehensive rationale for their decisions and an urgent meeting to discuss their implications.

What will happen to the EO FTAs?
The DWP have so far been unable to tell us what their plans are for the nearly 10,000 EO FTAs, mainly Work Coaches working in Jobcentres. However, we are optimistic that our representations to the DWP will lead to most EO FTAs being made permanent. PCS will argue that it is vital that this entire group of staff is made permanent as the overworked and undervalued staff in Jobcentres need as much support as possible right now.

Martin Cavanagh Group President
Mark Page Industrial Officer

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We have raised our concerns with Bolton SC Management and asked that they send home workers home and move staff to warmer areas of the office.

This has still not been done, even though we have persisted with this line of argument. It is unacceptable in this weather, and there are also concerns from members around Covid Safety as we cannot have any windows open at present due to the cold, which could lead to an outbreak, and cause the building to be shut, this would mean a greater loss of productivity in the long run.

We have been told that the heating should come back on soon when an engineer arrives, however, if this doesn’t happen we may have to raise the issue further.

This is the advice that we gave in September/October:

Please read the bulletin below, issued last Winter, as regards office temperatures. It explains what you should do and what management SHOULD do.

If you feel that the temperature is uncomfortable, please report it to the Sodexxo help desk on 0870 606 0065.

If anyone has any individual concerns, please address them, at first, with your team leader. We are always available for help and advice as well.

Is your office too cold?
Temperature in the office is one of the things that initiate the most complaints. However unlike in the summer when it was too hot, when it is too cold there is a legal lower limit. The minimum temperature under the Workplace (Health, safety and Welfare) regulations is 16 degrees. No one can be made to work in an office that is below this temperature.

There have been a number of incidents where people have had to wear coats in doors because of the lack of temperature. This is not acceptable.

The Health and Safety Executive and DWP guidance are clear that it is not just a question about the lower minimum temperature being adhered to, what is critical in a workplace is the thermal comfort levels. The fact that we need to sit at workstations to do our job means we need a reasonable temperature to do this work. This is higher than 16 degrees which is much too cold to do our jobs sitting down all day. Managers are focussing too much on the 16 degrees when there is a requirement for them to address the thermal comfort of staff which for an office situation is ideally 21-23 degrees. DWP guidance states When office temperatures drop below a threshold of thermal comfort and the problem affects more than one individual, is widespread or affects the whole building site managers are responsible for ensuring action is taken to address the issue.

What to do if your office is too cold?
If the office is too cold and it’s because your heating system is not working this can be reported by calling the help desk on 0870 606 0065. If this does not get resolved properly go through the estates escalation process.

In the meantime, management have a duty of care to ensure that nobody works in a temperature below 16 degrees and that thermal comfort needs are addressed. The site manager is responsible to ensure that the situation is rectified and what actions to take with the staff. They should consult with your local PCS representatives throughout this process.

They will need to know how long it will take to fix and what they are going to do with staff until this situation is sorted. Also all the measures they put in place need to be safe under the covid-19 measures as well. They can try and get supplementary heating but they need to address staff welfare whilst they are waiting. Additional heaters should be oil filled radiators and not fan heaters which recirculate the air and increase the covid-19 risks. If it is localised to a part of a building staff can be moved to warmer areas but only if there is sufficient space to continue to operate social distancing properly. Workstations must be cleaned between different users. However, moving desks is not always practical for those who have reasonable adjustments. If there is not sufficient room for members to move safely to areas of the office that can be kept warm or members can only work at their own desk which is set up with all their reasonable adjustments, members may need to be sent home until a permanent solution is found. Again if management are considering if there is space in nearby workplaces where staff could work temporarily it must be checked to see if it would safe to do so with covid-19 safety measures. Getting kit to enable members to work from home can also be considered but not management should also recognise that not everyone is able to work from home. Doing nothing is not an option. However difficult getting the work done to sort out the heating problems, it is management’s responsibility to find solutions so that members can work in an environment that is not only above 16 degrees but complies with the thermal comfort standards.

If you think your part of the office is too cold but it’s not because of a fault with the heating system you can request to have temperature readings done at your work station. Where members have a reasonable adjustment or an occupational health recommendation for a heater – this should be provided by using an oil filled radiator rather than fan heaters to reduce the covid risks.

Severe Weather
Each office should have a winter plan. This also needs to include ways that good ventilation can be introduced into a workplace to address the risks of airborne transmission of covid-19. But should be tailored to what works in each site to minimise the impact on the thermal comfort for members. The winter plan should have been discussed with all staff prior to the winter so that everybody knows what to do and who to contact in the event of extreme weather. There should also be a business continuity plan in place that all staff are aware of; this should be reviewed every year and following every situation such as this. The plan should include measures such as a call tree where managers and staff ensure they have numbers to contact.

During this period of severe disruption, if staff need advice they should ring the DWP emergency number - 0800 783 6617
There is clear guidance on the intranet on what needs to be done when there is severe weather

Managers clearly state that staff safety is paramount and everything else should reflect this priority. If members have any concerns, you should raise them with your local PCS reps

Stay safe

Carol Revell        Group Health and Safety Officer
Katrine Williams   Group Vice President

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25 November 2021 | Return to the Workplace in Work and Health Services – Update for members.
DWP/MB/130/21 | To: All Members Department for Work & Pensions Group, GEC (for info)

Following the sensible decision by Retirement Services Directorate (RSD) to pause the return to the workplace until the new year, a helpful clarification has been provided by senior Work and Health Services management which, in our opinion, supports members, many who have genuine concerns about working in an office with the pandemic very much prevalent in society.

PCS were advised on 9 November 2021 that the majority of staff based in Work and Health Services would be expected to be back in the workplace by 29 November 2021, although it was stated that there was no hard end date and that 100% of Work and Health Services would not return to their office by then. Management insisted that good quality 1-2-1 conversations should be taking place to listen to the concerns staff may have and address them with a view to supporting colleagues. Unfortunately, this is not the reality that staff are facing, with many members reporting 1-2-1 conversations are not taking place and colleagues being asked to return to the workplace during week commencing 29 November 2021.

Clarification from Work and Health Services Management
PCS have continued to push DWP to take a more measured approach and have highlighted the very real concerns have about returning to the workplace, including many with health issues. Senior Work and Health Services management have now responded to our concerns and confirmed in writing to PCS, that there is no emphasis on staff being asked to return to the workplace by 29 November 2021.

PCS had formally requested that Work and Health Services management mirror the decision of RSD and pause the return to the workplace until the new year with the following. The employer has responded in writing stating:

As you know, we have already begun our 1-2-1 conversations with colleagues, and the journey will be different in different sites, depending on issues such as risk assessments, equipment, parts of the business occupying the site etc. I have explained previously that it was our intention in Work & Health Directorate to enable the majority of our Back of House colleagues to work in a hybrid way by the end of November, but this is not a hard end date and so we have not set a target for the proportion of colleagues that we have operating in this way by that date.

It is really important to us all that we do this properly, and the most important thing is that we have a good quality 1-2-1 with individuals, and agree a plan with them. We know that some of our colleagues are keen to return to the office as soon as possible, and we will work with them to do that. Alternatively, if we need to take longer to work with an individual, to build their confidence, ensure that they have the right enablers in place and that we have addressed any concerns that they may have, then we will do this. If this, then, means that some colleagues won’t be ready to return to the workplace until the new year, we will support them with that.

In all sites, we will continue to work closely with our local trade union reps, to gain feedback on any issues, and make sure that local leaders continue to find solutions to issues, to support our colleagues to return to the office. I would also ask you to share any common issues or trends with me, so that we can ensure that we work together, as we have throughout Covid.

Guidance for members in Work and Health Services
PCS are of the opinion that this response provides a clear and unequivocal understanding that members working in Work and Health Services are not required to return to the workplace from next Monday. Any member who is mandated to return to the workplace should advise their line manager of the above response from senior Work and Health Services management and contact their local PCS rep in the first instance. If the issue cannot be resolved, please contact the Group Executive Committee at leeds@pcs.org.uk

Ian Pope, Group Assistant Secretary
Marie McDonough, Group Vice-President
Martin Cavanagh, Group President

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16 November 2021 | PCS Opposes Mass Return to the Workplace – Legal Advice
To: All PCS Members | DWP/MB/121/21

PCS has continuously opposed DWP’s decision to force most Jobcentre staff into delivering services face to face since the department began to fully open the doors of the Jobcentres in April. It is our view that Jobcentres are not yet safe or covid secure workplaces and PCS members’ health has been put at risk by the department ramping up face-to-face activity.

Now is not the time for a mass return to workplaces
DWP has so far focused on getting staff back into Jobcentres but now they are using the hybrid working model to try and get our members back to workplaces in non-customer facing roles.

Scientists are clear, despite the mass vaccination programme, that Covid-19 still poses a very serious risk to public health and with infections once again rising the virus is still as prevalent in society today as at any time during the year. With the winter months throwing up additional health risks, now is not the time to be ramping up the return to workplaces.

PCS members have shown that it is entirely possible to deliver vital services to the most vulnerable in society from home throughout the pandemic. It is irresponsible for the DWP to choose this moment to try and force a mass return to workplaces for members currently working from home.

Now is not the time to introduce Hybrid working
PCS support the greatest possible choice and flexibility being given to members over how and where they do their jobs, but now is not the time for DWP to use hybrid working to force a mass return to the workplace, considerably increasing the risk of our members catching and transmitting Covid.

1-2-1 meetings
All staff must have 1-2-1 meetings with their line managers before there is any possibility of returning to work. Be open and honest about your concerns. Contact your PCS rep if you feel that you are being forced back to your workplace.

Know your legal rights
PCS are not telling you refuse to work but the law offers certain protections to workers in respect of their health and safety. For example, where you have a reasonable belief that there is serious and imminent danger that you cannot avoid, workers who do not attend work or leave their workstation may not be placed at any disadvantage because of their action. Workers are protected in these circumstances from being subjected to a detriment by the employer as a result of such action.

If you are told to work in a DWP Office that you feel is unsafe and you want to talk to a PCS representative, please send an email to leeds@pcs.org.uk giving your name, membership number and telephone number. We will contact you as soon as possible.

PCS will continue to do all we can to protect your safety at work. Your union is here for you at this difficult time. If any member feels that they are in serious and imminent danger due to the increased risk DWP is placing you under speak to your representative. The union will support any member that needs to remove themselves from such danger.

Martin Cavanagh     Mark Page
Group President       Full Time Officer

Coronavirus: Can employees refuse to attend the workplace?

The purpose of this briefing is to provide general information about the protections which the law provides to employees who refuse to work in certain circumstances. Before going any further, we should make one thing absolutely clear:

This briefing provides general information about statutory rights which are available to all employees in the UK. We are not advising you to do, or refrain from doing, anything.

If you have a particular concern about your situation at work please seek advice in the first instance from your PCS branch or email leeds@pcs.org.uk

Legislative Protection
EU legislation provides health and safety protection to workers. Specifically, Article 8(4) of the Framework Directive 89/391/EEC provides:

“Workers who, in the event of serious, imminent and unavoidable danger, leave their workstation and/or a dangerous area may not be placed at any disadvantage because of their action and must be protected against any harmful and unjustified consequences, in accordance with national laws and/or practices.”

This protection has been enacted into UK law by Sections 44 and 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA) which make it unlawful for an employer to dismiss someone, select them for redundancy or subject them to any other detriment in prescribed circumstances. There is no qualifying period of employment for these protections. The government has laid regulations to amend the provisions to include protection for workers as well as employees and if approved will come into force on 31 May 2021. This follows a recent case which held limiting the protection to Employees only was inconsistent with the Directive. Until that date however the provisions will only protect employees.

These rights should be read together with other rights emanating in EU law. Under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, implementing the PPE Directive 89/656, every employer “shall” ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to their employees who may be exposed to “a risk to their health or safety while at work” except where and to the extent that such risk has been adequately controlled by other means which are equally or more effective (Regulation 4(1)). This generates issues in relation to Coronavirus such as: have employers undertaken appropriate risk assessments in relation to each work establishment (as opposed to a one-size fits all risk assessment)? Do their employees have access to adequate PPE? In the present pandemic, employees could potentially refuse to undertake specific duties where this would bring them into contact with other persons or members of the public unless adequate PPE was provided.

Grounds for Protection (Section 44 ERA)
These protections apply in either of the following situations:

(1) In circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which they could not reasonably have been expected to avert, they left (or proposed to leave) or (while the danger persisted) refused to return to their place of work or any dangerous part of their place of work (Sections 44 (1) (d) and 100 (1) (d) ERA); and

(2) In circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent, they took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect themselves or other persons from the danger (Section 44 (1) (e) and 100 (1) (e) ERA).
Serious and Imminent

The key to these protections is that the danger must be “serious and imminent”. The seriousness of exposure to Coronavirus might well be informed by the particular circumstances of the individual, including whether they or someone within their household is considered to be vulnerable or otherwise at heightened risk. The advice from the Government is certainly that exposure to Coronavirus is serious – both for the individual and those they come into contact with.

The ”other persons” in Section 44 (1) (e) are not limited to work colleagues but could include family members or even members of the public. In any case, the NHS has specifically warned that “Coronavirus can make anyone seriously ill”.

The extent to which the danger is “imminent” is also going to be fact-specific, but it is worth noting that we remain in the midst of a pandemic in which the entire population has been instructed by the government to stay at home, save for certain limited exceptions.

It does not matter whether the employer disagrees with the employee’s assessment of ”serious and imminent”: as long as the employee’s belief is a reasonable one then it qualifies for protection.

Provided that the belief is reasonable, it is a matter for each employee’s subjective belief as to whether being required to attend workplaces places them or others in circumstances of danger which are “serious and imminent”. This is the case even where the employer disagrees with that assessment. Those subjective beliefs are likely to be informed by context and arrangements put in place by the employer to minimise the risk.

Where members have to commute to work using public transport, they may have a different perception as to whether they are exposed to serious and imminent danger compared with someone who commutes to work by car and has suitable onsite parking facilities.

Potentially the protection under sections 44 and 100 could apply to the commute to and from work if an employee reasonably believes that a commute would place them at serious and imminent danger, in which case they may be able to refuse to travel to and from work. However such a case would be dependent on the facts. ‘Danger’ has been interpreted widely by the courts so that it is arguable that it extends to the circumstances of arrival, (e.g. a very crowded train) and potential carrying the virus to others, by virtue of having been in close contact with other passengers.

PCS has maintained that for those who physically attend the workplace, suitable measures should be in place, including the provision of facemasks and hand sanitiser. Social distancing protocols should also be maintained in our view or suitable alternatve mitigations put in place.

We have also raised the need for systematic cleaning arrangements to be kept in place so as to minimise or reduce the risk of exposure (e.g. regular sanitisation of desks, chairs, screens, door handles, elevator buttons and the like), as well as the need for risk assessments to be in place in respect of each individual workplace and reviewed.

Appropriate Steps
To qualify for protection, you need only to fall within Section 44(1)((d) or (e) – there is no requirement to fulfil both conditions.

The ”appropriate steps” referred to in Section 44 (1) (e) are not defined but, in certain circumstances, might include refusing to attend work. The appropriateness of the steps taken is judged by reference to all the circumstances, including the employee’s knowledge of the facts, as well as the facilities and the advice available to them at the time.

The law does provide protection, in circumstances where members can bring themselves within the grounds for protection. If you are concerned, seek advice from your Branch representative or contact group via leeds@pcs.org.uk.

As explained above, the purpose of this briefing is to provide members with information as to their rights and protections. The PCS is not instructing or encouraging members to do anything or to refrain from doing anything, but the union will support members who remove themselves from serious and imminent danger using their legal protections.

Where an employee does not attend work when instructed to do so, it is best practice to email their line manager or department to explain that they will be absent and give their reasons for absence.

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11 November 2021 | Department for Work & Pensions Group Members Meetings
PCS in DWP campaigning on pay, pensions and living standards.

Over the past decade PCS members have had their pay and living standards attacked by pay freezes and 1% pay limits. Our members are now at least 10% worse off than they were before the economic crash in 2008.

In addition, members now face inflation of over 3%, likely rising to 5%, massive increases in gas and electricity bills and increased national insurance payments. At the same time the Tories are robbing us of 2% of our pay every month by not adjusting our contribution to our pensions.      

Last week the Tories announced that their latest public sector pay freeze would end but details of exactly what this will mean for the Civil Service, including DWP, will probably not be known until early next year.

Our 2022 pay increase is due next July. The DWP GEC are fully committed to the PCS national campaign for a 10% increase for all members in 2022, but members will need to be prepared to fight to get the Government to deliver a pay increase that our members deserve.

We have already received significant feedback from members about how they have been affected by the long-term suppression of pay in the public sector and recent hikes in the cost of living. The ending of the UC uplift has also hit many members hard, and continued price rises and planned increases to National Insurance contribution will hit even harder.

The DWP Group Executive Committee (GEC) met in October and agreed a pay, pensions and living standards campaign plan. This is being launched tonight with a meeting for all DWP reps and advocates. All branches will then be holding their own members meetings throughout November and December, to get further feedback from members and to build the campaign.

In addition, we will also be holding two meetings that are open to all members, so that you can hear directly from the DWP Group.

The two meetings will be held on Monday 15 November at 6:30pm and Wednesday 17 November at 5:00pm. Members should try to attend one of these meetings. Joining details are below.

In addition, your own branch will then hold a meeting (or meetings) with speakers in November and December, which you should also attend. These will lead into a member’s survey and petitions to demand better pay and build for 2022. 

Ian Bartholomew                                                        Martin Cavanagh
DWP Group Secretary                                                DWP Group President

Link for Monday 15 November 2021 6:30pm

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2 November 2021 | Employee Deal Flexibility - Your Right to Swap with Colleagues
To: All Members and GEC, DWP/MB/111/21

You may swap with other members of the team
The Employee Deal Collective Agreement supports flexibilities which include a flexibility for colleagues to swap with other members of their team. Regular working pattern planning and agreement will ensure your team can meet business requirements. On this basis, Collective Agreement paragraph 13 (f) supports a “swap” with a colleague: Within this collective team pattern, colleagues may swap with other members of the team. The Employee Deal Collective Agreement is available to all DWP employees on the DWP Intranet https://intranet.dwp.gov.uk/policy/collective-agreement-employee-deal

You may swap a late finish or early start with a colleague
Collective Agreement paragraph 15 (f) for Flexi-time confirms: Employees who have committed to be present by fixing either their start time or end time will be responsible themselves for arranging for a colleague to take on their commitment before they can flex off or take unexpected leave, and they must take responsibility for informing the manager of the change – although this general expectation will not prevent employees taking leave in emergencies

Collective Agreement 15 (f) gives you responsibility for arranging to ‘swap’ with a colleague. You do not need permission from your manager to arrange a swap, but you must inform your manager of the change. You do not need to arrange a swap with a colleague to take annual leave and should not be required to do so.

Flexible Working Hours Agreement
DWP Flexible Working Hours Agreement (FWHA) Policy, paragraph 1, confirms that FWH is also the primary means of managing hours and working patterns between colleagues from day to day. The FHWA supports other flexibilities.  FWHA Procedure 2(h) also includes swaps.https://intranet.dwp.gov.uk/policy/flexible-working-hours-fwh-agreement-procedures

PCS advice, support, and representation
Contact your local PCS Representative for advice, support, and representation should you have any problem.  Members with urgent enquiries may contact leeds@pcs.org.uk

David Burke
Group Assistant Secretary                  

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29 October 2021 | Festive Leave in Universal Credit - Update(Service Centres and Jobcentres)
To: All Members Department for Work & Pensions Group and GEC (for info)

DWP/MB/102/21 provided members with an update on discussions with senior Universal Credit management on festive leave. Since then the Group Executive Committee (GEC) have been contacted by reps and members seeking clarification as to whether Non-Working Days would be included in the percentages of staff allowed off over the festive period as they are for the rest of the year. The GEC can confirm that Non-Working Days have been included in the percentages of festive leave permitted. The decision to include Non-Working Days is not exclusive to Universal Credit, but the entire DWP. This has been the case for the past two years. DWP rationale for this decision is that allows leaders to consider overall absence during this period of service delivery to then propose the maximum percentages of leave.

PCS oppose the use of Non-Working Days in Percentages of leave allowed
Group negotiators, once again, challenged DWP on the decision to include Non-Working Days and made our opposition known. Despite robustly challenging this decision, DWP will not back down. However, they have agreed to consider flexibilities to the percentages where offices have higher levels of Non-Working Days. Last year, a number of Universal Credit Services Centres where given the flexibility to exceed the percentage allowed off and this will apply again this year. Where there are a high number of Non-Working Days at any specific site, the local PCS reps should engage with local management with a view to hopefully securing flexibilities. If there is no resolution at local level, reps should email leeds@pcs.org.uk

Staff scheduled to work on Christmas Day and New Year's Day
DWP have issued the following guidance for staff who are scheduled to work on Saturday 25 December 2021 and Saturday 1 January 2022:

Colleagues are not required to work on these days. For example, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are on Saturdays in 2021 and colleagues will not be required to work these dates. If colleagues have been scheduled to work these Saturdays, a flexi credit will be given to the same value of the contracted hours of attendance. Planned non-working working days should go ahead as scheduled.

Members who have any issues in connection with festive leave should raise these with their local office reps in the first instance, and contact leeds@pcs.org.uk should these remain unresolved.

Ian Pope                                                                      Steve West                                                
Group Assistant Secretary                                      Group Assistant Secretary

Marie McDonough
Group Vice-President

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6 October 2021
PCS warns minister of catastrophic impact of Universal Credit cut

“A catastrophic effect on the most vulnerable families in our society,” is how PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka has described the Universal Credit cut, which takes effect today, in a letter to secretary of state Therese Coffey.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the standard allowance of Universal Credit would be temporarily increased by £20 a week.

The uplift was initially set to last 12 months but was then extended by six months. It was confirmed in July that no more extensions would be applied and from today, the standard allowance returns to its pre-March 2020 level.

Mark described as “alarming” the government’s justification for the cut to move people into jobs.

“This is entirely flawed considering over 40% of current claimants are already in work and many of them are currently employed by your department,” he said.

Mark highlighted that we have been contacted by members across the Department for Work and Pensions in recent days, who have shared their fears regarding the £20 cut and the feedback we have received has been both overwhelming and alarming. Many have said they have relied on the uplift to make ends meet and they will now struggle to heat their homes and feed their families.

Mark said: “I am appalled that our members are not only facing these hardships but that their own pay is so poor that they are in receipt of benefits.”

He urged the cabinet minister to “act immediately and take steps to stop this unnecessary cut which will impact our members and the lives of millions of others, many of whom are already in work.”

Read the letter from Mark Serwotka to Therese Coffey
urging her to reverse the £20 cut in Universal Credit

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6 October 2021
Brutal cut to Universal Credit - PCS demands reversal

Today sees the government’s decision to withdraw the £20 uplift to Universal Credit (UC) implemented; a decision that will plunge millions into serious financial hardship and many into poverty. 

PCS has long campaigned for a fairer, properly-resourced social security system, that has compassion and support at its core. We have argued that an end to conditionality and sanctions, as well as scrapping UC, must be key elements to a fundamental review of benefit provision in the UK.

Throughout the pandemic, the call on the vital services our members provide has never been greater, with millions of new claims made many from members of the public who have never before needed the support of the state. It is this reality that led to the government introducing a £20 a week "uplift" to Universal Credit, to give extra financial help to claimants and their families at a time of need. PCS, alongside other campaigning organisations, has called for the uplift to not only be retained, but to be converted to a permanent increase in benefit and for it to be extended across other benefits as well. 

It is appalling that the government has not only failed to listen to those calls but has now seen fit to remove that extra safety net from UC claimants and the consequences for many will be devastating.

We have already been told this week by a work coach that one claimant had written in asking for the department to keep the £20 in place as they couldn't afford to lose this money. When informed that wasn't within the gift of the work coach the pregnant claimant has now confirmed they have booked themselves in for a termination as they cannot bring a child into poverty. This is the brutal reality of this cut to benefit.

PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka, has written to the secretary of state Therese Coffey calling for a reversal of this cut and offering to discuss with the government how we can support the most vulnerable in society through this difficult period.

DWP members severely affected In addition to highlighting the impact this cut will have on UC claimants, PCS have also been receiving testimonies from members who work in DWP on how this will impact on them and their lives. 

The attached letter quotes some of the feedback gathered so far and further briefings will be issued in the coming weeks highlighting this savage nature of this cut and what it means to members delivering the benefits system.

This of course is compounded by the current pay freeze, the forecast rise in inflation, and proposed hike in National Insurance contributions from April. All of which will see our members' income significantly reduced.

This cannot go unchallenged. Campaign to win.
PCS will continue to campaign against this cut to UC and join forces with other organisations and the wider trade union movement to broaden our demands. 

Members will also see a ramping up in campaigning activity against the overall cuts to our living standards in the coming weeks. We urge members to engage with your union in building these campaigns into one's that can win for you and those we help support in wider society.

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6 October 2021
Government breaks election pledge over National Insurance increase

Increasing national insurance contributions will hit working people in the pocket just as food and energy prices are going up, the Universal Credit uplift is being scrapped, and workers are facing attacks on their wages and conditions.

There can be no doubt that social care is in crisis and needs fixing. Over 40,000 died from Covid in care homes during the pandemic in an overwhelmingly privatised system that puts profit before safety.

The top three owners of care homes in the UK are private equity companies, solely operating to accumulate profit.

Over 300,000 elderly and vulnerable people are now on the waiting list for social care, a rise of 26% in the last 3 months. An already chronically underfunded and overstretched NHS is even shorter of beds because social care places are not available to discharge people into.

Average pay for care workers is a paltry £8.50 an hour. One in four are on zero-hour contracts. With that level of pay and conditions it's not surprising that there's a shortage of 170,000 care workers.

In the 2019 Tory election campaign Johnson said that they would ‘fix social care’ and not ‘raise the rate of income tax, VAT or National Insurance’. Instead there is no fix for social care and ordinary workers are being made to pay increased national insurance contributions. This rise is not even earmarked for social care, it is being made to plug a funding gap in the NHS.

Of course, we in ARMs are not opposed to additional funding for the NHS and for social care, but not at the expense of low paid workers including colleagues in PCS. Once again working-class people are being made to pay for a crisis not of their making. Increasing national insurance contributions will hit working people in the pocket just as food and energy prices are going up, the Universal Credit uplift is being scrapped, and workers are facing attacks on their wages and conditions through 'fire and rehire'.

There are also proposals that pensioners who work will also pay national insurance contributions, though it is unclear what, if any, benefits they would receive from doing this. 

The government has shown during the pandemic that money can be found, especially when it comes to giving contracts worth billions to their big business friends in the private sector. It is the wealthy who should be coughing up to fund the NHS and social care, not low-paid workers. The TUC has calculated that if capital gains tax – the tax on profits from assets like stocks and property – was paid at the same level as income tax, that would alone generate £17 billion a year for funding health and social care.

But taxing the rich and big business should be just the start. We need to be able to plan the funding of health and social care based on need not profit. This isn't about young versus old. It's about a system where the rich have got richer even during the pandemic and the rest of us are struggling. There should be no place for private profiteers in our health and social care system. Everyone should have access to free universal health and social care in an integrated system based on need not profit. It should not be based on ability to pay. ARMs policy adopted at our national forum meeting this year is to bring social care into public ownership as part of a national integrated health and social care service.

Dave Warren and Clare Wilkins
ARMs National Committee

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6 October 2021
Proposals to align free prescriptions to state pension age

The government is considering scrapping free prescriptions at the age of 60 and aligning them with the state pension age.

Not content with considering scrapping the triple lock, which will mean that UK pensioners, who get a comparatively poor rate of state pension, are unlikely to get an 8% increase on the current miserly sum, the government is considering scrapping free prescriptions at the age of 60 and aligning them with the state pension age. The additional cost will mean many being no longer able to take their medication. 

There are two options being looked at to extend the age at which people are entitled to free prescriptions. Full details can be found on the Gov.uk website.

The website states “Option A is to raise the qualifying age for free prescriptions to the SPA (currently 66) for everyone. This would mean that following changes to the Charges Regulations people aged 65 and under would have to pay for their prescriptions until they reach the age of 66, unless they qualified for another exemption.

"Option B is to raise the qualifying age for free prescriptions to the SPA (currently 66) but with a period of protection, which would mean that people in the age range 60 to 65 would continue to receive free prescriptions. This would mean that anyone aged 60 and over when the changes to the Charges Regulations are implemented would continue to be exempt from prescription charges, whereas those aged 59 and under when the changes to the Charges Regulations are implemented would have to pay for their prescriptions until they reach the SPA (currently 66), unless they qualified for another exemption.”

You would think they would have learned from the maladministration findings of the Pensions Ombudsman regarding the late and inadequate notice of women born in the 1950s (and early 1960s) that their state pension age was increasing to align to that of men. Sadly, clearly this lesson has not been learned. Even option B does not give much notice to current 58 and 59 year olds. 

The website details the drastic impact this will have on the poorest financially and health wise. It certainly does not make economic or moral sense. Many of those aged between 60 and 66 will qualify for free prescriptions via another route. Substantially more people will be unable to afford all of their prescription charges and will have to decide whether to buy their prescribed medication or tolerate the consequences of going without, so impacting adversely on their physical and mental health. They may try to eke out asthma and other medication, making it less effective. Less people will visit their GP until their condition becomes so serious that they may need hospital treatment. This will be more expensive to an already over stretched and understaffed National Health Service during the pandemic and into the future. 

The impact goes beyond the individual and the NHS. Many people in this age group are unpaid carers for family members but may not be able to fulfil this role if their health deteriorates. They may have less money to spend in the local community which will affect business owners. Family life will not be the same if it results in a deterioration of health and additional need for social care. There are also concerns that this goes against the Equality Duties, as outlined in the website document.  

38 Degrees has launched a petition to stop this change, which you can sign online.

Jacquie Hadfield
ARMs National Vice Chair

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6 October 2021
COVID 19 – it is not over yet

Our union has been heavily engaged in dealing with the impact of Covid 19 at all levels. Nationally there have been regular meetings with the Cabinet Office to establish a Civil Service wide approach to the pandemic, on issues such as home working, annual leave and the impact of long Covid.

Departmentally we have had regular meetings of the joint health and safety committee, developing a suite of Defence Advice Notes laying out policy on safe working during the pandemic and with Civilian HR creating and amending policies and procedures to address issues arising from the pandemic.

All these documents can be accessed online via DefNet or Defence Connect.

But our work has not ended, as Covid is still very definitely with us with infection rates of over 30k per day and deaths in the hundreds per week.

So, it is important that we continue to monitor the application of risk assessments and mitigations to allow staff to return safely to the workplace where they need to do so. We are also engaging with business units on their plans for smarter or hybrid schemes of work, to ensure that they allow all staff to work flexibly and safely in line with departmental policy. If you are at all concerned about what you are being asked to do in relation to a return to the workplace or an option to work flexibly, please get in touch. And please make sure that you follow all the rules around Covid. They are there to keep us all safe.

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6 October 2021
DWP staff condemn Universal Credit uplift end as “ideological attack” on the poor

The decision to end the Universal Credit uplift will impoverish millions of unemployed and low paid workers, PCS has said.
Universal Credit was uplifted by £20 and extended temporarily for 6 months in March by chancellor Rishi Sunak.

PCS, which represents workers who help claimants access Universal Credit and other benefits, says the Tories are deliberately targeting the poor and vulnerable for ideological reasons by ending the uplift.  

Many PCS members working in DWP also rely on Universal Credit payments to make ends meet due to appallingly low wages.  

Catherine works part-time in a DWP service centre and is worried about the effect of the cut on her family. She said: “Myself and my partner both claim Universal Credit and work for DWP (he is full time). We have 2 children in primary school and use breakfast club on the days I work, we do claim childcare costs back for this for which we get about £40 a month back at 85%. We will now need to find the money for this elsewhere as it’s likely with the reduction in our UC award we will no longer get this help. I also struggle to find the money for school dinners, which is £76 every six weeks and will double next year when the youngest moves to junior school.” 

Anne, an executive officer in a jobcentre, said: “I work 32.5 hours a week and qualify for UC due to low income. This is going to hit myself very hard, with prices of everything, including household bills rising. I’m looking to make changes to put myself out of hardship financially. I have had a tough time financially due to personal circumstances.” 

Research, by Professor Jonathan Bradshaw and Dr Antonia Keung at the University of York, has found that 840,000 people have fallen into fuel poverty, following energy price increases on 1 October.  

3.4 million households - or 6.3 million adults and children - will not be able to pay rising gas and electricity bills this winter without cutting their food spending and more than six million people are facing fuel poverty this winter.  

Responding to the uplift being scrapped, Mark Serwotka said: "The scrapping of the Universal Credit uplift is a scandalous decision driven by an ideological opposition to supporting the most vulnerable in society. 

“Unemployed and low paid workers both need access to Universal Credit to make ends meet and by removing the uplift, thousands will be plunged into dire poverty with people having to potentially choose between buying food and heating their homes this winter.  

“There needs to be a fundamental overhaul of the social security system where no one is left behind regardless of their circumstances.”  

5 October 2021
Our fears about the Universal Credit cut

“I don’t have anything to cut back on anymore,” a PCS member tells us ahead of the £20 cut to Universal Credit which hits millions of people tomorrow.

Dozens of members have got in touch to share their fears for the future ahead of the government’s decision to end the £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit (UC) becoming a reality tomorrow (6). The uplift was originally introduced as a support measure at the beginning of the pandemic.

Members have described the impact of the cut; their names have been changed.

Margaret, a single parent, who works full-time is an executive officer at a Jobcentre Plus, said: “I claim UC and I am struggling to make ends meet already without losing the uplift. The cost of food has increased, and I have had to increase my food budget by £20 a month to reflect that, also fuel has increased to its highest cost per litre in quite some time, now gas and electricity going up is really making me scared for the future. I don’t have anything to cut back on anymore and I am going to be forced into a position where I am asking family to help me out with food in the last week of the month.”

Greg, executive officer jobcentre plus, says the cut will make it increasingly difficult to cover the basics: “I am a single parent with a 16-year-old son who has just started college. The £20 a week loss will make it increasingly difficult for me to afford his bus fare and provide him with adequate lunches. I struggle with anxiety, taking daily medication for it, and this has got much worse over the last few weeks, knowing that yet again I have to try and do more with less.”

For Wendy, an administrative officer at a DWP contact centre, life will be even more of a struggle. I am going to struggle with the £20 stopping which I feel is extremely unfair,” she said. “I know it's only £20 but when you have a small child who I receive DLA for and a partner who can't find work at the moment, this is a lot to lose. I just feel the government need to make sure people are not going into financial hardship which a lot of people are going to find themselves in.”

Are you a DWP member? Sharing your story will help us to oppose the ending of the £20 uplift.

Contact PCS at leeds@pcs.org.uk to tell us how you feel about losing the £20. 
Any information will be kept confidential, but we may anonymise some of your testimony and use it in our campaigns and communications.

If you’re a PCS member in another department, email editor@pcs.org.uk to tell us how the cut affects you.

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4 October 2021
Universal Credit Kickstart update - revised

Group executive committee (GEC) negotiators met with the Deputy Director for the Kickstart Programme on 1 October 2021, as part of a series of regular meetings. Kickstart remains the number one priority for the DWP in addressing youth unemployment. Kickstart Scheme extended until March 2022GEC negotiators at the meeting made it clear that we had been contacted by many of our members working on Kickstart, who are understandably concerned about their futures. We emphasised that those members require the earliest possible indication of what will happen to them after Kickstart comes to an end. Management advised us that a decision from the Minister on the future of Kickstart was due imminently. However, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced today that the Kickstart scheme will be extended by three months until March 2022. The GEC will be urgently seeking details from senior Kickstart management regarding how this announcement will effect staff. 

GEC negotiators also sought clarification for members who had been recruited on Fixed Term Appointment (FTA) contracts as EO Work Coaches, but subsequently moved onto Kickstart work. We were assured that the extension of contracts to June 2022, for FTAs recruited as Work Coaches, also applied to those who had been transferred onto Kickstart. There are, however, AO FTA staff whose contracts are due to end in March, and the prospect of getting those contracts extended is still uncertain. 

The GEC will continue to update members working in Kickstart as and when further information becomes available.Scoring ProfilesThe GEC has received reports from members of a tool being used for scoring profiles, consisting of nine boxes, which had caused alarm. They had questioned what staff were being scored for, particularly with their futures uncertain. GEC negotiators sought confirmation from senior Kickstart management at our meeting the reason this tool is being used, and why it is regarded as necessary. It was confirmed that this tool is being used in connection with progression exercises, rather than to score each member of staff on their performance, as had been feared. We advised the senior managers that, had they told us about this tool and its purpose, members' concerns around this could have been alleviated much quicker.Guidance for membersAny member who has concerns around the any of these issues should contact their local PCS representative and then email leeds@pcs.org.uk if the issue cannot be resolved.

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1 October 2021 How Universal Credit cut hits PCS members
Our DWP members have been sharing with us how the £20 a week cut in Universal Credit will have a devastating impact on them and their families.

The government has decided to end the £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit (UC) from 6 October. The uplift was originally introduced as a support measure at the beginning of the pandemic.

Members have described the impact of the cut; their names have been changed.

Catherine is an administrative officer who works part-time in a DWP service centre, she is worried about the effect of the cut on her family.  
“Myself and my partner both claim Universal Credit and work for DWP (he is full time). We have 2 children in primary school and use breakfast club on the days I work, we do claim childcare costs back for this for which we get about £40 a month back at 85%,” she said.“We will now need to find the money for this elsewhere as it’s likely with the reduction in our UC award we will no longer get this help. I also struggle to find the money for school dinners, which is £76 every six weeks and will double next year when the youngest moves to junior school. We are also both in a large amount of debt so are already struggling financially to pay back loans and credit cards.”

Anne, an executive officer in a jobcentre, will be hit hard by the loss of the uplift.
“I work 32.5 hours a week and qualify for UC due to low income. This is going to hit myself very hard, with prices of everything, including household bills rising,” she said. “I’m looking to make changes to put myself out of hardship financially. I have had a tough time financially due to personal circumstances.” Children will sufferSingle parent, Joanne, works part-time as DWP contact centre administrative officer. She fears she won’t be able to heat her house this winter because of the cut to UC.
“I, like most, have come to rely on the extra money, and will now struggle once the money gets reduced, £80 a month is a lot of money to lose. It pays for things like school uniforms and school lunches. I think it will cause people to be in debt, and the ones that will suffer will be the children,” she said. “It will have a big impact on what I can afford for myself and my son, it is also an expensive time of year, with all the utility bills increasing. I rent an old house, with no insulation or double glazing so my heating bill is high every year, with the increases, and a drop in income, I suspect we will be cold this year.”

Are you a DWP member? Sharing your story will help us to oppose the ending of the £20 uplift. Contact PCS at leeds@pcs.org.uk to tell us how you feel about losing the £20. Any information will be kept confidential but we may anonymise some of your testimony and use it in our campaigns and communications.

If you’re a PCS member in another department, email editor@pcs.org.uk to tell us how the cut affects you.

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29 September 2021
Work for DWP? Complete our workplace safety survey

If you are a PCS member working for the Department for Work and Pensions, we would like to hear your views on returning to the office, office safety, travelling to the office and pay.

So that everybody has the chance to complete the survey, we have extended the deadline to 15 October.

Our DWP group executive committee will review the survey results and decide on next steps when it meets next month.Members’ meetingsPCS are encouraging members to attend meetings organised by branches to discuss the current safety position in DWP. Several meetings have already taken place with GEC speakers in attendance providing an update. Just as important, we want to hear from members, so we can take away the issues to be raised in our discussions with the employer.
Check with your branch when your meeting will take place, and please attend to let us know your views.

Don’t know who your rep is? Log in to PCS Digital to find their details. Important you have your sayWe know from previous feedback that members throughout DWP have serious concerns about the safety of their workplaces and returning to them. They are also under pressure from DWP and have other worries we all share about pay and the likely impact the rise in National Insurance contributions and inflation will have on take-home pay and our standard of living.

The members survey and branch meetings are important tools for members to tell us about the impact these issues have on them, as well as informing PCS what they’re prepared to do about these issues.

We value members’ input and need your engagement if we are to push DWP back and win important concessions for you and your colleagues.
Not a member? Join PCS online today and make your voice heard where you work.

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28 September 2021
Universal Credit cut will be devastating to many
Millions of people will see a drastic cut to their benefits from 6 October as the government goes ahead with a cut to Universal Credit worth £20 a week.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the standard allowance of Universal Credit would be temporarily increased by £20 a week. This was done, he said, to “strengthen the safety net” during the pandemic. Universal Credit and the £20 uplift has been a lifeline for people during the pandemic, with an unprecedented number of new claims processed. 

The uplift was initially set to last 12 months but was then extended by six months. It was confirmed in July that no more extensions would be applied and from the beginning of October, the standard allowance would return to its pre-March 2020 level.

Biggest cut for generations
The cut, which has been consistently opposed by PCS, has been calculated as the biggest single overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the Second World War affecting around 6 million people. And campaigners have warned that the consequences will be devastating. It is predicted that more than 800,000 people will be plunged into poverty, including more than 200,000 children. 1 in 3 families are expected to be hit by the cut and in some areas, more than three-quarters of families with children will be affected.

Those who are working will also be impacted by this cut, including some PCS members, as 40% of Universal Credit recipients are in work. For hard-working PCS members, this is just one of the many attacks on your standard of living. You’re still overpaying into your pensions by 2%; you’ll soon be paying a further 1.25% in National Insurance contributions and the 2% inflation rate devalues your pay even further. This means in the next year alone, you will all be hit with a real-terms cut of 5.25%. For those of you who also claim Universal Credit, this figure will be even higher.

With all of this taken into account, along with the looming energy price hikes and food shortages, a cost of living crisis is intensifying and is set to affect millions of people up and down the country. PCS will be fighting for you at every turn to right these wrongs and protect your livelihoods.

To help us fight the cruel and callous cut to Universal Credit we want to hear how you’ll be affected. Complete our poll and email your story to editor@pcs.org.uk

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28 September 2021
Have your say in the 2021 DWP People Survey

Participation in the DWP People Survey provides an opportunity for you to tell DWP what you think.

The Survey opens on Tuesday 28 September
It only takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete and your line manager will allow official time for you to participate in the survey. You can give DWP your own honest feedback about issues such as your pay, the fairness of evaluation of your performance and any bullying or discrimination at work. Voluntary, anonymous and confidentialPCS has democratically agreed to support participation in the DWP People Survey following debate at the 2019 Annual PCS DWP Group Conference:

Tell DWP what you think
All the response options which range from ‘Strongly agree’ to ‘Strongly disagree’, including ‘Neither’, are provided for your use. 

• Participation in the DWP People Survey is voluntary, anonymous and confidential
• All survey response options, positive or negative, are for the use of employees including neither. The use of neither does not give a negative response - it simply may indicate that the employee has no opinion to express or is simply unaware of the issue
• All DWP employees are encouraged to complete the Survey once to give their own honest feedback on issues covered by the Survey questions

A DWP People Survey intranet page provides essential info for line managers to support a well-managed survey. This includes: Encourage use of all the response categories, including ‘neither agree nor disagree.’

You should have your say – whatever your viewpoint, there is no right or wrong answer; honesty is what matters. 24 September 2021 Read the autumn 2021 edition of PCS Activate online nowAnalysis and resources for PCS activists.

Getting involved and encouraging others to do the same is always at the heart of our work as activists – no more so than now as activity revs up again post-summer.
This edition of Activate shows the breadth of the union’s reach – whether it’s engaging young members in work being done to revitalise the national PCS network, organising activities for Black History Month in October, or building towards action in our regions and branches in the run up to the UN climate talks in Glasgow (COP26).
There’s also news of discussions on the next phase of our national campaign on pensions and pay, which have members’ priorities at their core.

Read on for more – in this edition:
GS: The next steps in the national campaign
National Executive Committee discussions on the next steps in our national public sector campaign have been looking at members’ main priorities as we look ahead to the coming months.

National campaign: focus on pensions, equal pay and sectoral pay
Discussions on the next steps in our national campaign have been looking at members’ main priorities as we plan ahead for the coming months.

‘Young members can bring a wealth of knowledge’ – sign up for our seminar!
Young members are being urged to register for a one-day seminar on 23 October, on rebuilding the union’s national young members’ network. Two members tell us why they think it’s important to get involved.

COP26: Building for climate action in your branch
PCS Green rep Charlotte Smith explains what her branch has been doing to build towards a global day of action, on 6 November, during the UN climate change talks in Glasgow.

Proud To Be… marking Black History Month
Now is the time for branches to start publicising and planning activities for Black History Month, which takes place annually throughout October.

Organising in the workplace: ‘I realised the rep could be me’
FCDO rep Sarah-Jane Holtam has been working hard to recruit and build a PCS presence in their relatively unknown workplace, with great results.

PCS national learning events go live
The second phase of PCS’s new national and member-only learning programme has been launched, with regular online events and courses starting from 7 October.
Let us know what you think about this issue and please send your Activate ideas to editor@pcs.org.uk
Join the Activate Facebook page

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13 August 2021 | Further Health and Safety Risk Assessment Update for DWP staff
To:  All members in DWP
Branch Secretaries, Additional Branch Contacts, Regional Secretaries & GEC (for info)

Track and Trace
QR codes should still be used. Where QR codes can’t be used there should be a separate sheet to record for tracing reasons.

There needs to be suitable and sufficient break out facilities for all staff to have their breaks safely.  There also needs to be sufficient toilets.  Management state that all toilets can be used and are no longer limited, but if they don’t have toilet lids there is a risk.  However, we have been assured work orders can be placed to get lids.  It is safer to keep number limitations if there is no lids and instruction around putting the lid down prior to flushing

Keeping Safe Training
Keeping safe Part 1 and 2 should be done by all staff who work with customers either face to face or over the phone.  It can take 4 weeks for L and D to get a course in place after new recruit’s inductions but we have been assured that L and D have a number of course taking place between now and the end of the year so there should be no issue regarding getting a course.  Instead of pat 2 being classroom based it is now delivered by teams. 

Hand Sanitiser
Hand sanitiser and hand washing should still be used.  However, PCS is disappointed that DWP refuse to put up signage for customers regarding the flammable nature of the hand sanitiser.

The Director General bulletin confirmed a careful and controlled approach and that the further reopening schedule would be based around the risk assessment process and the restacking of estate.  However, the incorrect version of the JCFRA was attached and this is causing further confusion.  Although some managers are trying to push ahead regardless.

Accident reporting
It’s important that if members are stress or feel that they are not covid safe they should be encouraged to complete accident reports via SOARS

Safety is Paramount
The GEC believes that safety should be paramount and some of the behaviours that we have seen does not indicate that this is true for all parts of the department.    If there are areas where this is not being done properly contact us at leeds@pcs.org.uk There is also a survey for members MB 85 which should be encouraged for them to complete.

There will be a health and safety reps zoom organised in the near future and you will be notified of that in due course.

Stay Safe!

Martin Cavanagh    Group President
Carol Revell             Group Safety Officer

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10 August 2021 | Health and Safety Risk Assessments for DWP staff
To:  All members in DWP
Branch Secretaries, Additional Branch Contacts, Regional Secretaries & GEC (for info)

PCS have been in consultation with DWP to review the Covid risk assessments. These are the overarching departmental risk assessment and the Covid-19 checklist, which covers all buildings, and the JCFRA Covid risk assessment, for the Jobcentres.

Following strong representations by PCS we have agreed with the department that where there is no local health and safety rep available to work through the risk assessment, due to annual leave or if they are doing risk assessments elsewhere, local management will not go ahead without the local TUS. They will instead wait until the local H&S rep is available so they can consult properly. DWP have assured the union that there will be no "cliff edge" and that further reopening of offices will be a gradual, slow process.

We are already aware of some areas that are attempting to jump the gun, but no risk assessment should be progressed without proper consultation with local TU.

Further details
Once we have completed the consultation on the risk assessment process, PCS will issue further details and guidance to both branches and members.

The group will also arrange a meeting for health and safety reps as soon as possible following consultation.

In the meantime if there are any local issues regarding the risk assessments please escalate them to the GEC via pcs@leeds.org.uk

Carol Revell - Group Safety Officer

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6 August 2021
PCS responds to inaccurate media reports about civil servants and returning to the office

Throughout the unprecedented global Covid-19 pandemic, PCS has always prioritised the safety of its members. Therefore, at the height of the pandemic which led to more than 150,000 deaths in the UK alone, we came up with 5 safety tests and negotiated homeworking for the majority of our members. This included making sure staff were supplied with the right equipment to do their jobs so they could work from home.

Alongside this, many civil servants whose jobs could not be done from home were attending workplaces and have been throughout the pandemic. Both sets of workers have been serving the public and keeping society functioning.

In terms of public service delivery, this has been an overwhelming success, with vital Universal Credit payments processed by DWP staff and the furlough scheme rolled out by workers in HMRC. Our members were rightly lauded by the government as heroes for their efforts.

The chancellor Rishi Sunak himself has credited civil servants for keeping the country going by working successfully from their “kitchens and living rooms” throughout the pandemic.

It is nothing short of a disgraceful and libellous slur for some journalists to depict hard-working and diligent civil servants as somehow “shirking” or “twiddling their thumbs” because they are currently working from home. It flies in the face of the facts and that government ministers have themselves publicly recognised the extraordinary efforts civil servants and other public sector workers have made during the pandemic.

PCS continues to have intensive and productive discussions with the Cabinet Office on future working arrangements.

We are pressing them to prevent any large-scale return of staff to offices until it is demonstrably safe to do so; and even then to not return to the pre-pandemic world – we want maximum choice and flexibility for workers going forward, including homeworking where desired. The pandemic has proven that this is eminently achievable while maintaining service delivery.

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6 August 2021
Brook Street agency staff to be offered contracts in DWP

Members initially employed via Brook Street recruitment agency have been offered the opportunity to transfer into the DWP on Direct Temporary Recruitment (DTR) contracts

The offer of DTR employment to members employed via Brook Street has been following months of pressure and campaigning by the DWP group executive committee and demonstrates the clear value of being a union member, however we still have more we want to achieve for these members.

DTR means that members are not employed on permanent contracts. The DWP terms state:

The new offer is a temporary, non-fair and open contract from 2 August 2021 until March 2022. During this time you will be a civil servant and an employee of DWP.

What does non fair and open mean? This refers to a job which has not been advertised publicly. It means that whilst you can apply for external roles both within DWP and wider civil service you will not be eligible to apply for any internal roles.

PCS believes that all of the members brought into the department via the Brook Street agency should be offered permanent recruitment via an “open and fair” recruitment exercise and should be supported by the department to maximise their chances of being successful.

The best way to strengthen that argument is to grow the strength of the union by asking your colleagues to join. With a strong union fighting on your behalf your interests at work will be best protected and extended. Ask any non-members you know to join today.

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5 August 2021
Read the latest edition of PCS Voice online now

The latest issue of PCS Voice is online now and is full of news and information for members in the DWP group.

From the editor
Welcome to the third edition of PCS Voice for 2021. This is the first edition from the newly-elected editorial board, and I would once again like to welcome Lorna, Joe and Nicky to the board. I look forward to working more with you this electoral year. Read more

President’s column
The UK is now in middle of yet another phase in this seemingly never-ending pandemic. For the past two weeks or so many of the previous safety restrictions have been lifted in England, and it is likely Scotland and Wales will follow suit over the coming days and weeks. Read more

Putting campaigning at the heart of organising
As an organising union, PCS regularly campaigns around the issues that affect our members. Read more

Jobcentre safety dispute
In the recent consultative ballot, members in jobcentres overwhelmingly rejected the DWP's decision to extend face-to-face services to customers and force members back into workplaces; 74% saying that they were prepared to take strike action. Read more

DWP pay 2021
Last month the employer imposed a paltry pay offer which PCS opposes. Our members in DWP deserve more for the work they have done throughout the pandemic. We have long called for a return to national pay bargaining, and we are moving closer to that by putting in sectoral pay claims. Read more

Hybrid working
With the easing of restrictions and the reopening of society, a return to the workplace is a matter of great concern for many of our members. Questions have been asked about the possibility of hybrid working. Read more

Tribute to John Collinson
DWP North East region were given sad news that their colleague and PCS representative John Collison had passed away on 4 June. Durham branch secretary Judith Leighton pays tribute to John on behalf of the region. Read more

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5 August 2021
Support with summer childcare

Finding childcare over the long summer holidays can be difficult, but as part of our summer focus on caring we look at what help is available.

According to a report by the Coram Family and Childcare charity, finding affordable childcare during the school summer holidays is one of the biggest problems for parents. The research finds that only 33% of English local authorities have enough holiday childcare available for parents who work full time, and on average prices have risen 5% since 2019.

The cost and shortage of places can be overwhelming, often meaning parents end up using most of their annual leave and sometimes have to take unpaid leave as well. Many couples report that they have to divide the holidays between them so they are unable to take time off together as a family.

Research by the TUC found that nearly a fifth of working mums had already used up all their annual leave to manage school closures during lockdowns and around one in eight said they would need to take unpaid leave to make up the shortfall.

Help with changing your work patterns
Many civil service departments have a range of policies for working parents, including flexible working. Parents of children aged 16 and under have the right to ask their employer for flexible working and that can include compressed hours, flexi-time, staggered hours, working from home, job-sharing and term-time only working. Employers are obliged to consider any application for flexible working and can only reject it if there’s a good business reason for doing so.

Speak to your PCS rep to find out what is available in your workplace and how you can put in a request.

Parental leave
Parents of a child under 18 can take up to 18 weeks unpaid parental leave (in total). You must have been employed for at least one year. Leave must be taken in blocks of one week (unless the child is disabled, when it can be taken in shorter blocks) and you can take no more than four weeks’ parental leave per year.

Speak to your PCS rep about how to request parental leave.

Help with costs
You can receive help with childcare costs for children aged 11 and under through the government’s Tax-Free Childcare scheme.
Under the scheme you can get up to £500 every 3 months (up to £2,000 a year) for each of your children to help with the costs of childcare. This goes up to £1,000 every 3 months if a child is disabled (up to £4,000 a year).

You can find your rep's details by logging into PCS Digital.

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20 July 2021 | Dealing with extreme heat in DWP workplaces

The Met Office has issued its first ever Amber Extreme Heat Warning as large areas of the UK will continue to see hot conditions this week. Although there is no legal maximum for temperature, under health, safety and welfare legislation managers are responsible for ensuring that staff work in a comfortable working environment.

The DWP office environment guide states that the ideal working temperature for DWP sites is between 21 and 23 degrees. However, many parts of the UK have had temperatures in the 30s recently, so there is likely to be an issue in our offices.
Covid Safety measures

Unfortunately, many of the air conditioning systems in our offices cannot be used due to covid safety. We can only use air conditioning that extracts and exchanges the air not the type that recirculates the air as this could potentially spread covid especially if there are asymptomatic people in our offices. This also prevents the use of fans unless someone is in a room on their own. If you have windows that can be opened and create a through draft, then use them.

There are things the office manager can do to make it more comfortable for people to work in the office

Open as many doors and windows as possible, but never wedge open fire doors. It is important to have windows on both sides of the building open. This will encourage cross-flow ventilation. In windy conditions it is better to have all the windows open a little rather than a few open a lot

Ensure blinds are closed properly on the sunny side of the building to reduce solar gain. In summer the windows on the eastern side will have been exposed to the sun for some hours before staff arrive for work so unless there are reasons not to, e.g. specific security concerns, close these blinds before leaving for the day.

Allow staff frequent breaks to have drinks of cold water to combat the effects of dehydration

If practical, move staff into rooms less affected by solar gain

Staff public caller areas on a rota basis to allow the benefit of regular breaks in the open air

Consider sending home any officer particularly at risk, e.g. those who are not in the best of health, allowing full flexi credit for absences

If practical, increase home visiting and allow staff to write cases up at home

Consider relaxation of dress code standards

Consider home working

Allow regular breaks in the open air / Extend lunch breaks allowing full flexi credit for any extension. Staff who work standard hours should not be expected to make up lost time when extended breaks or early departures are allowed.

Raise an incident

In dealing with overheating problems it is essential that site managers keep all occupants and the trade union appointed safety rep fully informed.

When office temperatures rise above a threshold of thermal comfort and the problem affects more than one individual, is widespread or affects the whole building, site managers should contact the helpdesk (0870 606 0065) and raise an incident or contact the appointed service provider on non DWP estate sites.
Complete an accident corm

If you are too hot and it is uncomfortable to work complete an accident form at SOARS (sheassure.net). Please copy your local health and safety rep in so that they can identify the extent of the problem and negotiate with local managers the measures that can be put in place to help alleviate the problems.

In these high temperatures it is important that control measures are put in place to mitigate the situation. Heat stress can cause severe problems to the individual so should not be ignored. Heat stress can affect individuals in different ways, and some people are more susceptible to it than others.

Typical symptoms are:
• an inability to concentrate
• muscle cramps
• heat rash
• severe thirst - a late symptom of heat stress
• fainting
• heat exhaustion - fatigue, giddiness, nausea, headache, moist skin
• heat stroke - hot dry skin, confusion, convulsions and eventual loss of consciousness. This is the most severe disorder and can result in death if not detected at an early stage.

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20 July 2021 | Read PCS People issue 2, 2021, online now
The latest issue of our members’ magazine PCS People is online now and is full of news about your union.

In the latest issue of PCS People, our principal focus is on the DVLA dispute, covered in our main article and in the general secretary’s column.

PCS President Fran Heathcote explains how our national conference went ahead despite the pandemic, we highlight the cost to members of the government’s latest pensions attack and consider the impact on unions of the divisive policing bill.

Find out more about conference by downloading and reading the special report.

There is also a Q&A about the impact on members of the Brexit protocols in Northern Ireland and we look at what workers can do if they are feeling drained and possibly suffering from burnout.

And our Me and My Job feature looks at tackling rough sleeping amid the Covid crisis.

And if you are feeling energetic Samuel is looking for PCS members to play some football with. See the letters page for more information.

Got a story for our next issue?

Why not share your experiences, achievements and comments on how the union has helped you?
To contribute, share ideas for articles, submit letters or comment on the magazine email editor@pcs.org.uk
We hope you enjoy this issue and this magazine inspires you to get involved in your union.

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19 July 2021 | Guidance for Public Sector Group members on the end of Covid restrictions in England
Read our health and safety guidance and advice in response to the changes introduced with effect from 19 July.

At a meeting with the Cabinet Office on 8 July our national executive committee made the following demands:

National law and guidance in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must be followed
There must be no arbitrary targets or dates for staff to return to workplaces
Departments and agencies must consult the unions in advance of any plan for staff possibly returning to the workplace
Social distancing must remain in place; face-coverings should be used in communal areas and in any setting in which they are currently being used; existing screens should remain in place
Proper ventilation is vital in buildings and unions must be reassured on this before any return to the workplace
Vulnerable employees, including those not vaccinated, should continue working at home unless, on the balance of risk (impact on their mental wellbeing of working from home), it would be better for them to return to the workplace
Risk assessments, both individual and collective, should include travel to work and must be undertaken in advance of staff returning to the workplace

In multi-occupied buildings/sites, health and safety arrangements must be put into place to ensure that the unions are properly consulted at a building/site wide level as to all aspects of health and safety regarding a return to the workplace. This means PCS in those buildings/sites must work together as one body.

We recognise everyone wants to get back to some kind of normal and many members will be keen to be back in workplaces, but this must be done in a way that protects all staff. At a time when Covid-19 infection rates are on a steep upward trajectory, now is not the time to relax restrictions and caution must be applied. Ending restrictions does not make 19 July ‘freedom day’ for us but instead freedom for the virus to spread further, putting countless more lives at risk.

Public Sector Group position
We are awaiting proposals from the various departments that make up PSG about how or if things will be changing this week. However, we are aware that in several areas, managers have been very keen to inform staff that they have to return to the office from today. This is unacceptable given the lack of guidance from the Cabinet Office and BEIS.

We are aware of increased cases in workplaces and growing numbers having to self-isolate. This is not a situation where we need to reduce restrictions. Our demands are that the current Covid adaptions to workplaces, including social distancing, plastic screens, provision of cleaning equipment and increased cleaning regimen are maintained.

We know there are members in PSG who cannot work from home or who need to attend for wellbeing reasons. We already have large numbers of members in offices; they should not see the protections that they have had in place eroded as managers try to squeeze more people in.

Advice for members
Any proposed increase in numbers in any building/workplace or reduction in social distancing needs to be properly assessed for risks. Anyone asked to return to the office should have an individual risk assessment completed by their line manager and if the Covid adaptions are removed from offices, all staff in workplaces need to have revised and updated individual risk assessments.

In many workplaces there are already staff attending but an increase in numbers will bring significant risks. If you are concerned about coming into a workplace where numbers are increasing, whether you've been working from home or have already been attending the workplace, then you should request to see a copy of the building risk assessment and safe system of work and ask if it has been signed off by PCS. You have a right to see this before you agree to attend your workplace. If there is anything in the risk assessment that is of concern or you think is missing please notify your line manager immediately and contact your local PCS rep. You should also have an individual risk assessment that includes an assessment of the risk of your travel into work.

The health and safety of our members at work or working from home is of paramount importance to PCS. Please ensure you follow guidance and raise concerns with your local reps if there are problems.

Please remember these changes are for members in England only and members who work in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales should follow the guidelines in those countries.

Read the updated BEIS guidance for civil servants in England, and for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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19 July 2021 | Health and Safety for DWP staff
PCS has made clear to the Department that despite the government lifting many of the legally enforceable protections in England, and future dates in Scotland and Wales, the union expects our members’ safety to be the number one priority.
New guidance

Despite the new guidance in place in England from 19 July, it is clear to us all that we are still far from out of the woods in terms of infection rates and the risks to our members. We maintain our view that it is crucial that DWP still keep measures in place to protect our members and those who use our services.

We have demanded:
● Staff be allowed to still work from home where possible
● There is no mass return to the workplace until it is safe
● Face coverings should still be worn in our workplaces
● Social distancing should still apply
● We should restrict customers physically attending our offices
● Screens should remain in Jobcentres.
No changes in DWP - talks continue

The message from DWP rightly is that everyone should continue operating the safeguards we have in our workplaces, with no relaxations. Consultation continues on a new Covid risk assessment and what the changes in the wider societal position means for us, if anything. In the meantime carry on as you were before.

We will continue to monitor the infection rates and the situation within DWP sites.

PCS remains opposed to the extension of face to face services in Jobcentres and are still in dispute.

Further negotiations with DWP are being held this week and the GEC will also meet on Wednesday and Thursday. Further information will be issued to members after that.

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19 July 2021
Burnout: spot the signs
If you’re feeling drained, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, less capable at work or unable to face the demands of your job and life, you could be experiencing signs of ‘burnout’. You’re not alone.

Burnout can happen to anyone at any time in their life, but the various impacts of the Covid crisis have exacerbated feelings of stress, anxiety, exhaustion and alienation for many people.

The Charity for Civil Servants – which offers practical, financial and emotional support to all current, former and retired civil servants – has launched a new online ‘Burnout Hub’ that brings together information on wellbeing support.

The new resource was compiled after research carried out by the charity in 2020 highlighted a need for information and guidance on the topic. It showed that the majority of us feel like the pandemic has negatively affected our general well-being.

The hub includes guides on stress, anxiety, resilience and mindfulness, webinars on avoiding and recognising burnout, and signposts to finding more support.

While many of these symptoms could happen for other reasons, common signs of burnout include:

Alienation from work-related activities: individuals experiencing burnout may view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow anxious about their working conditions and the people they work with. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel indifferent or numb about their work.

Physical symptoms: chronic stress may lead to physical symptoms, like headaches or stomach aches or intestinal issues.

Emotional exhaustion: burnout can cause people to feel drained, unable to cope, and tired. They often lack the energy to get their work done.

Reduced performance: burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work – or in the home, for example when someone is also caring for a loved one.

**** People with burnout don't always have depression, but some of the symptoms are the same.
Before self-diagnosing depression, you are advised to speak to your GP. ****

If you have any problems or questions about issues at work, please contact your local PCS rep.
Find contact details on PCS Digital.

Advice and resources from The Charity for Civil Servants:
Burnout Hub | DogBot chat | Home page.

Confidential support line: 0800 056 2424, Mon–Friday 9am–4pm.

‘Sometimes I get snappy and tearful’
“I’m in my 20s and this is my first civil service job. I’ve been working from home since lockdown began. My job is stressful anyway – as many people’s jobs are. There is huge ministerial interest in our team’s work.

When Covid kicked off there was a rush of important, urgent work that needed to be done. The civil service responded brilliantly. But I have noticed that ministers started to expect that as the norm. They think we should work like that all the time – you can, but you end up with loads of burned out staff breaking their necks to get things done.

A lot of the team has been struggling to cope. When you add working from home into the mix, I often feel very isolated. You meet on Teams and then when you hang up there’s just this enormous pile of work and competing priorities, and you’re sitting in your living room stressed out of your head.

Often there is just so much to do that I end up not doing any of it because I’m so overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. I’m not sure if that’s normal.

I’ve been finding it difficult to sleep because I’m thinking about the next day at work. Some days I get really upset because I feel like there’s not enough support. I get snappy with my partner and a bit tearful sometimes.

I’m just completely drained and dreading logging on the next day. I didn’t realise that’s how I was feeling until other people started to go off sick.

Maybe it sounds bad but what I’m trying to do now is just the bare minimum and not break my neck, because as soon as you help one person out everyone starts asking.

To deal with it all, initially I started drinking at weekends, then realised that’s not great. I have started going to the gym more again. I’m the sort of person who likes routines and Covid has not helped with that. I am actually looking forward to going back to the office.

Sometimes I feel guilty that I am feeling burned out when I’m so young. Others might look down on someone younger who says that; maybe they feel they have been through a lot more than me. But everyone can experience it.

One thing I despise is when employers focus too much on mindfulness. I do practice it; I meditate and things like that, but I don’t like it when they use it to pass on responsibility for our mental wellbeing. It’s such an easy cop out for the employer to paper over the cracks.”

‘Work has just burnt me up and changed my outlook on life’
“I work in the DVLA. All of this started with the pandemic. A lot of people went off because they were isolating or shielding. I was a part-time carer for my parents, but I still kept going in. I couldn’t see them. It annoyed me so much. Some of the calls we were taking were horrendous. We deal with a lot of overseas customers. I remember being inundated with calls from Italian people – we had their passports (as ID for exchanging driving licences) and they wanted to go back home and bury their relatives. We couldn’t locate the passports; we weren’t allowed to as we didn’t have the staff to look for them. The pressure was immense.

I just began dreading going into work. My job is to help people, and we can’t. It’s even worse now because we have got such a huge backlog. You can imagine how frustrated people are. I just know I’m going into work to get backlash. I used to love my job for the fast-paced environment and the fun. But it’s relentless now. So many people who have been in work through the pandemic are now mentally struggling. I spent this weekend in tears thinking about going into work on Monday, I didn’t want to socialise or see anyone – you don’t want to bring other people down.

I feel burned out. I can’t concentrate. I can’t sleep. I’ve had panic attacks. Because I caught Covid [during an outbreak at work] I’ve got terrible brain fog. I’m terrified of making mistakes. But I know my job well. I feel like my personality has changed from being upbeat with loads of energy, to lethargic and depressed. Work has just burnt me up and changed my outlook on life. I feel like a battery that’s been drained, and there’s no charge going to come back in it, ever. I did go on strike, I fully support the union in that. Management should have put us on rotation until this was over.”

The interviewees spoke to PCS anonymously.
This article is taken from PCS People issue 2, 2021.

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19 July 2021 | Pensions robbery: the real cost to members

The government is blatantly attempting to snatch away members’ rights to have their pension contributions reduced by at least 2% and see their benefits improved – but PCS is resisting and planning legal action.

PCS members are being robbed of around £1,000 each from their salaries as well as improvements to pensions benefits that they are owed.

Coming on top of another unnecessary and insulting pay freeze, members will be furious about this deliberate move by the government. In the coming months, we will be asking you to get involved in our campaign to right this wrong.

Why is this happening? Because there has been outrageous and unjustifiable government interference in the Civil Service Pension Scheme’s valuation and cost cap processes in recent years

The original outcome of the scheme’s 2018 valuation was declared more than two years ago. It confirmed PCS’s view that the future cost of the scheme had originally been exaggerated for political reasons. The cost of the scheme had fallen below the ‘floor’ of a cost control mechanism (called the ‘cost cap’) which meant there was money to spend on reducing employee contributions and improving pension benefits.

This produced recommendations that members’ contributions should be reduced by at least 2%, and that there should be improvements in benefits. Since then, the government has behaved outrageously:

Outrageous act 1: Avoiding the valuation
The government suspended the valuation process that was carried out in 2018 and should have seen your contributions reduce from April 2019. It used uncertainty around a legal case it lost – a judgment of unlawful age discrimination in the way its 2015 public sector pension changes were introduced (the McCloud case) – as an excuse for holding back those benefits from scheme members until a solution was worked out.

Outrageous act 2: Trying to make the victims pay
When they restarted the valuation, the government insisted the full costs of the discrimination remedy for the McCloud case would be included in a new revised valuation. This would mean members paying the full cost of their unlawful actions. PCS believes the way they want to revise the valuation will mean there is no longer a ‘cost cap’ breach, effectively cancelling the cut to the employee contribution they owe to members.

The Treasury is now planning long-term proposals that would make it harder for future valuations of the scheme to trigger changes to member contributions and benefits, in a move PCS has called “cynical” and a “betrayal”. These involve changing the cost cap mechanism in ways that tear up the original basis of the cap, making it likely that there will never be a breach in future.

Outrageous act 3: Adding insult to injury
Compounding this already diabolical approach towards scheme members, the government is proposing that the full cost of the remedy will be loaded into the current four-year valuation period, rather than being spread over a longer time. This is completely unjustified, given that most members will not decide on their portion of remedy cost until they approach retirement.
Union actions: Building our case

Along with other unions we have protested vigorously at this “make the victims pay” approach.

While work is now being done to avoid the “no breach” outcome, our legal case for judicial review to strike out the remedy costs from the valuation entirely is being prepared in final form.

PCS is working closely with other unions and will be pressing for a hearing of our case in the summer.

How much of your pension has been stolen up to April 2021?

Annual salary Stolen contributions
£15,000 £600
£25,000 £1,000
£35,000 £1,400
£45,000 £1,800

Get involved
Your branch will be asked to formulate an organising and campaigning plan, including an all-members meeting around the issues of pay and pensions – ask your local reps how you can get involved where you work.

Look out for PCS region/nation briefings on pensions and how to campaign around the issue.

If you are not already a rep, why not get involved in the union? Speak to your rep about becoming a PCS Advocate or email organising@pcs.org.uk

Recruit a friend or colleague to PCS – together we are stronger. Look at our why join page.

Read our pensions campaign page.

This article is taken from PCS People issue 2, 2021.

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15 July 2021 | What's on? 19 July - 25 July

PCS courses and events are now being listed on PCS Digital.

Anyone can view these events but to apply you'll need to log in to PCS Digital. If you have not yet registered for PCS Digital, please do so.

It's been another busy week of campaigning on members' issues.

Dispute resolution talks over jobcentres
Formal dispute resolution consultation began between PCS and members of the DWP executive team yesterday. We were clear that members feel even less safe about face to face working now than they did at the time of the ballot as a result of the rapid rise in infections due to the Delta variant of the corona virus.

Shapps should back a deal as DVLA dispute continues
As our DVLA campaign for Covid safety is continuing this week with staff in the casework and enforcement group out tomorrow and Friday, members explain why they continue their action.

Response to the permanent secretary’s plans for returning to office working in DWP
We have told DWP that we believe the government’s decision to remove, at this stage, the legal safeguards that have protected society from Covid-19 is dangerous and reckless. PCS has been in ongoing talks with the DWP about how they respond to the government’s strategy.

There are a number of courses coming up next week.

Neurodiversity in the Workplace stage 2 - All regions
20 - 21 July: 9:30am - 4pm

If you enjoyed the ‘Stage 1’, and want to expand your skills and knowledge as a PCS Neurodiversity Champion, register for this course in your region. These two days cover some more detailed ‘case studies’; discuss the position of neuro-atypical workers in the workplace and wider society in the context of austerity; and will give you a grounding in employment and welfare rights for neuro-divergent members. This course will focus on the importance of involving neuro-divergent members in campaigning for a fair workplace.

PCS Northern regional committee AGM
20 July: 12:30pm -2pm

PCS branches in Northern Region can send one voting delegate, and observers including advocates and ARMs members are welcome. Nominations for regional elections must be received by 29 June.

Get in touch
Check out our events page, PCS Digital, or contact your local rep or regional office to find out what’s going on this week and in the coming weeks.

Let us know what your group or branch is planning so we can publicise it in our weekly round-up. Email web@pcs.org.uk

Stay informed by updating your details securely online by registering for PCS Digital or by contacting membership@pcs.org.uk.

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9 July 2021 | Latest update on DWP pay talks

Department for Work & Pensions Group DWP/MB/077/21
To: Branch Secretaries, Additional Branch Contacts, Regional Secretaries and GEC. Please copy this to All Members

As reported in DWP/MB/071/21, PCS met with DWP management to make our case for them looking at sectoral pay. We explained that the union’s aim has always been to see a return to national pay bargaining across the whole of the Civil Service, and that remains our ultimate aim. However, a step towards that would be for employers within a sector to look at aligning their rates of pay, so that people within the same grade are not paid wildly different rates of pay based on which bit of a sector they work in. We pointed out that certain organisations that come under the DWP umbrella, such as HSE, generally pay more than DWP right across the grades. We do not believe that this is justifiable, particularly as DWP is effectively in control of the purse strings throughout the whole sector.

This meeting was out-with the normal pay negotiations, and DWP made it clear that, such were the limitations of this year’s pay remit, any consideration of a sector wide approach was likely to be for future consideration. They did however, take away our proposition and committed to coming back to us shortly.

2021 Pay
DWP have now participated in a short series of formal pay negotiation meetings with all the unions, but the remit is extremely limited. There is no consolidated money available for the vast majority of members, with only the lowest paid (those earning below £24,000) being offered £250 per year, or a portion of, and even that is something being done across the Civil Service, so is not the subject of any meaningful consultation.

The talks have mainly centred around how DWP split the one off non-consolidated bonus payment. PCS have argued for this money to be split evenly, and for every last penny in the pot to be utilised.

What next?
Obviously, we have made it clear that what is on offer through the Treasury Pay Remit, is totally unacceptable and that the Government imposing a pay freeze on our members after the way that you have responded to the pandemic, and the huge pressures this put on the Department, is a kick in the teeth, that does nothing to properly reward you for your efforts throughout the most difficult of periods.

We are expecting DWP to make their final offer in the next few days. As soon as we have a formal offer that can be shared with you we will be consulting branches and members about our next steps.

Ian Bartholomew, Group Secretary
Martin Cavanagh, Group President

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21st June 2021 | Offer of Direct DWP Employment for Brook Street Staff, Extension of FTA contracts
To: All Members | DWP/MB/073/21

Campaigning gets results
PCS has made continuing demands to DWP that all staff recruited on Fixed Term Appointments (FTA) are made permanent and that those recruited on Direct Temporary Recruitment (DTR) are given opportunities to be recruited to DWP by fair and open competition. We have also campaigned vigorously for Brook Street Agency workers in the DWP to be brought into direct employment thereby significantly improving the employment rights of this group of workers.

The efforts of negotiators have ensured that there will be extensions of the contracts for FTA and DTR staff and the excellent result of the offer of direct DWP employment on DTR contracts for the Brook Street staff.

Detail of changes
DWP have admitted that there is a continuing need for temporary resource to support critical delivery of Universal Credit and Service Excellence. They have secured approval from Capacity Board and the Minister to extend contracts for temporary AOs and also LDO colleagues.

Recent communications have stated:
For AOs recruited as Direct Temporary Recruitment (DTR), Fair and Open Fixed Term Appointments (FTA) and Brook Street agency workers.

• DTR and FTA Employees will receive notification from DWP that their current contract will be extended to 18 March 2022. Future new DTR candidates will all receive an end date of 18 March 2021 regardless of their start date.

• Brook Street workers will be offered the opportunity to accept a DWP non fair and open contract commencing 2 August 2021 and ending 18 March 2022. Those workers who do not accept the offer will remain working in DWP on their current Brook Street contract until the end date, 30 September 2021

• FTA Learning Development Officer (LDO) colleagues will be extended to the end of March 2022.

• There will also be a further FTA EO exercise to address attrition and the original shortfall of our 300 FTA ambition from the exercise last year.

• DWP will draw down from the HEO reserve list to fill gaps in management roles. This will not have any immediate impact on those who have recently been successful in the internal TDA EOI to HEO exercise.

PCS Response
PCS welcomes these positive developments. However we feel there is a strong case for all those FTAs recruited by fair and open competition to be made permanent as we do not believe that the post Covid economic crisis will be resolved any time soon. We will continue to campaign for permanent contracts for all FTAs.

We believe that if the Department, as instructed by the Treasury, will not recruit permanent staff then all new staff should be recruited on FTA contracts and not DTR contracts so that they have the best possible opportunity to be made permanent in the future.

PCS will also continue to argue that the DWP should be an exemplar employer and never again use agency workers, creating a two tier workforce with many workers on vastly inferior terms and conditions.

Martin Cavanagh - Group President
Steve Swainston - Group Assistant Secretary
Mark Page - Full Time Officer


Covid office closure highlights concerns over jobcentres reopening

20 May 2021

PCS members have raised serious concerns about DWP’s insistence on full reopening of jobcentres after 17 Covid cases were confirmed at the Wigan office. The site was closed for a deep clean but had reopened on Monday (17 May). 

But staff are still extremely concerned about the outbreak and the increasing worries of a third wave of Coronavirus following reports of the so-called Indian variant of the virus being present in the North West.  Following the 10-day circuit breaker the jobcentre was meant to open to vulnerable customers only, with a skeleton staff,  but local reps say at least 5 non vulnerable JSA claimants attended the office on Monday for face to face interviews.  

PCS is conducting a group wide consultative ballot on the imposed changes by DWP in having a full reopening of job centres despite the vaccine not being fully rolled out and new Covid variants causing alarm in communities around the UK.  

The ballot will close on 2 June.  
PCS industrial officer Mark Page said: “Jobcentres should not be fully reopening for staff and claimants as to do so would risk further infections, like what we have seen in Wigan.  The fact that this outbreak occurred when the jobcentres were not fully reopened and Covid safety measures are supposedly in place, shows the high risks DWP are taking with members and claimants health and safety.  DWP needs to pause the reopening and engage in constructive discussions with the union to resolve the issues at Wigan and elsewhere across the jobcentre estate.” 


No need for return to offices

18 May 2021

More staff and customers are being asked to return to jobcentres for face to face interviews despite working successfully from home for a year. PCS has opposed DWP’s plans to extend services in jobcentres as we do not believe it is safe due to Covid or that the necessary risk assessments and safety measures have been put in place.

Many jobcentre staff have been successfully working from home for a year now and PCS members have been telling us that they are not convinced by DWP’s arguments that a return to offices, and face to face interviews, is necessary now or safe.

Last autumn after a PCS campaign, DWP signed up to “empowering” work coaches, enabling them to decide how best to progress their own caseload and decide who to meet for face to face appointments. However, many PCS members who are work coaches are telling us that their line managers are putting pressure on them to return to the office and to change phone appointments to face to face appointments.

An email sent to staff by management at one jobcentre has requested that “any claimants that are currently booked as a phone but are in a face to face slot, can they be rebooked for a face to face appointment”.

A work coach in Wales told us: “We have been told that all work coaches have to be in the office 60% of their time, regardless of whether they have face to face meetings or not. 60% in the office won’t be Covid safe.”

Another member said: “I have not been in my jobcentre office for over a year. My manager wants me back in the office 2 out of my 3 days per week. I do not deal with 18-24 year olds, the self-employed or Job Seeker’s Allowance at present. I have successfully completed new claims over the telephone.”

Members are also considering how customers will feel about being asked to attend appointments in person. One member said: “I personally don't feel that staff and customers should be forced to attend the office until the pandemic is fully under control, and don't feel that I could justify the decision to my customers.”

PCS is running a consultative ballot of members working in jobcentres, which closes on 21 May.

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Not yet a member? Join online now.


DWP safety ballot extended to 2 June
19 May 2021

The DWP has imposed a further increase to the number of staff required to attend jobcentres

Since 12 April, DWP has been asking considerably more staff to return to jobcentres to carry out face to face interviews with customers.  On 17 May this increased again, despite PCS’s opposition on safety grounds.

DWP claimed that the increase in face to face activity would be slow, steady and safe, but since then has imposed these instructions for more staff to go into work and carry out face to face interviews with customers.

There is growing anger and fear amongst members because of the DWP’s apparent lack of concern for their safety.

The consultative ballot over safety was due to close this Friday 21 but PCS has decided to extend the deadline to Tuesday 2 June to enable more members to vote.

How to vote

The ballot is conducted by electronic voting. Members will have received an e-mail to their personal e-mail address from pcs@cesvotes.com.

If you haven’t had the email, you can apply for a replacement by e-mailing balloting@pcs.org.uk. The e-mail must contain your membership or national insurance number and your personal e-mail address. Please check your spam/junk e-mail before requesting a replacement.

The cut-off date for requesting replacement ballot notices is 12 noon on Wednesday 26 May.
New members who join by no later than 12 noon on Monday 24 May will be included in the ballot.