Civil servants working for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been handed over £40 million in performance-related bonuses, despite serious problems with the rollout of universal credit and a startling increase in the number of successful disability benefit appeals.
Figures show DWP staff were awarded £44 million in “good performance” bonuses in the last year, while thousands of new universal credit claimants were forced to a wait a minimum six weeks for their first payment and left at risk of becoming homeless because of rent arrears.
According to the figures, 240 senior DWP officials pocketed a total £760,000 in bonuses, while a further 88,300 junior staff were each handed an extra £1,750 in their pay packets.
A Cabinet Office spokesman defended the handouts, claiming bonuses are needed to “attract, retain and motivate highly-skilled individuals”.
Meanwhile, the data also reveals that DWP ministers spent a shocking £35 million of taxpayers cash defending cruel decisions to deny sick and disabled people Personal Independence Payments (PIP), despite seperate figures showing 72% of appeals taken to tribunal rule in favour of claimants – exposing chronic failures in the PIP assessment process.
Chancellor Philip Hammond (pictured above) was forced to reduce the mandatory wait for universal credit in his Autumn Budget, from six weeks to five weeks, and a two-week bridging system for housing benefit.
But critics and campaigners described the U-turn as “too little too late”. Labour criticised delays in implementing the changes.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams said: “This will mean tens of thousands of families going without over the festive period”.
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, added: “Thousands of households are in (rent) arrears and need the changes to happen now.
“If the seven-day waiting period isn’t removed until February and the housing benefit run-on doesn’t kick in until April, more families will face desperate anxiety about money in the coming months and a miserable Christmas.”
Universal credit has been beset with problems and delays since it was introduced by former DWP Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith MP.
The national roll-out of the full digital service was originally expected to be completed by December 2018, but this has been repeatedly pushed back and will now not be completed until 2022 at the earliest – unless there are further delays.
And technical problems with universal credit IT software has resulted in at least £40 million in costs having to be written off, but fixing the troubled system is likely to cost much more and the human cost has already been dire.
Of course, problems with universal credit and disability benefit assessments represent only a small part of a much wider problem with Britain’s increasingly harsh and demeaning welfare system.
Knowing that DWP officials have been awarded for what is, let’s face it, very poor performance, especially at a time when growing numbers of families are turning to food banks and poverty rates are on the rise, is likely to anger the very people our welfare system was (supposedly) designed to support.