The civil service’s biggest union has launched a campaign to increase staff levels at the Department for Work and Pensions by tens of thousands of officials to cope with “chronic” shortages at what is one of government’s largest ministries.
PCS says it will push for an additional 30,000 staff to be recruited at DWP, which had a full-time-equivalent payroll of 76,931 and a contingent labour force of 858 in September, according to headcount figures published last week. The latest annual statistics for the civil service show that only the Ministry of Justice had more officials than DWP as of March.
Boosting DWP staff numbers by 30,000 would equate to a 39% increase at the core department.
The wider department has a total full-time-equivalent headcount of 81,123 when officials at the Health and Safety Executive, The Pensions Regulator and the Money and Pensions Service are factored in.
PCS said its call for an unprecedented recruitment drive comes after hundreds of members at DWP have provided evidence about ways in which under-staffing is impacting their work.
Last month, the union said DWP’s drive to create a 6,000-strong Universal Credit Review team through a mixture of new recruitment and reassigning existing staff from other roles was was causing “chaos” in areas that officials were moving from.
PCS said it is clear from members’ responses that staffing has become “unacceptably low” across all areas of operation.
“Members from virtually all arms of DWP have shared shocking stories about the personal impacts of becoming ill due to the stress experienced as a result of the pressure of overwork,” the union said.
“We have also been inundated with stories of how lack of staff has let down claimants with shortcuts in services that have had detrimental impacts on some of the most vulnerable in society.”
PCS said hiring 30,000 additional staff would “bring relief to members and bring staffing up to a level that would enable a decent service to be delivered in light of government policy announcements”.
The union said chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Conservative Party conference pledge to cap the size of the civil service would have a “devastating impact” on members and the services they deliver to the most vulnerable people in society.
Earlier this year, PCS stated its opposition to proposals to outsource recruitment for around 2,400 of the new Universal Credit Review roles that are due to be created by March 2025. Such a move would mean that at least some of the work would be conducted by the private sector on behalf of DWP.
The review is being funded by £443m from the Treasury and is targeting a reduction of £6.4bn in benefits fraud by 2027-28.
A DWP spokesperson said the department is currently recruiting for a wide variety of roles, ranging from work coaches to Universal Credit case reviewers and that current campaigns were not affected by the chancellor’s headcount-cap announcement.
“We have an ambitious recruitment plan to maintain and grow key services – providing excellent opportunities for existing staff and new recruits who are playing a vital role in our next generation welfare reforms to help thousands back into jobs, grow the economy and drive down inflation,” the spokesperson said.