DWP's People Survey workload scores 'improving', perm sec says

Figures follow testimonies describing “unbearable” pressures and “improper” staffing levels
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By Jim Dunton

17 Jan 2024

Department for Work and Pensions permanent secretary Peter Schofield has told MPs that the latest Civil Service People Survey results show staff are happier about their workloads than they were in 2022 – despite unions' claims of an “epidemic of mental ill health” at the organisation.

PCS, the civil service’s biggest union, produced a dossier last month with testimonies from 50 DWP officials that it said showed the department “is a failing organisation in a state of crisis” with workload pressures at the heart of the problem.

Schofield was asked about the union’s claims by parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee last week.

He said he was concerned by the “epidemic” suggestion and acknowledged that DWP is currently “doing a lot of recruitment”. But the perm sec said staff responses to the latest Civil Service People Survey – conducted during the autumn but yet to be shared outside of government – suggested staff were more positive about their workloads than they were in 2022.

“We had the results just before Christmas,” Schofield said. “There is a question –  a theme – on workload: ‘Do I have an acceptable workload?’ The proportion of people who said, ‘I do have an acceptable workload’, went up a little compared with the year before and is, I think, as high if not higher than in any of the other big operational departments.”

The 2022 people survey records that 66.8% of DWP respondents agreed that their workload was “acceptable”. The figure compares with a pan-civil service median benchmark score of 61.7%.

Schofield did not divulge DWP’s actual score for the “acceptable workload” question in this year’s survey.  

He also assured MPs he was “not complacent” about the yet-to-be-published survey responses.

“I think it is a good opportunity for us to learn and see what we need to do differently,” he said of the survey. “But the overall picture is one of things seeming to be better this year than they were last year.”

Schofield added that he valued union feedback as “a good way” of helping the department understand staff sentiment.

“I would like it if people always felt that they could go through their line manager and all the rest of it, but for some people, that is a very good way of them expressing how they are feeling, and enabling us to put things right,” the perm sec said.

Work and Pensions Committee chair Sir Stephen Timms asked whether staff absences at DWP were rising as a result of mental health-related issues.

Schofield said he did not believe that average days-lost figures were rising, but pledged to “double check” and let the committee know.

Although the results of the annual Civil Service People Survey are analysed and shared promptly inside government, in recent years the formal publication has lagged the survey by several months. 

In a report on the survey last year, members of parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee described the situation as “indefensible”.

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