Headlines: August 5th, 2013

First it was the technology which attracted an amber-red warning, this was followed by the discovery that customers struggled to use the system, now an internal survey reveals that staff are demoralised.

According to The Guardian, a leaked internal survey of scores of Department for Work and Pensions employees working on the government’s flagship Universal Credit programme describes an environment of poor management and high levels of stress. Staff working on the porogramme have described the project as “soul-destroying” and “unbelievably frustrating”, with some saying they are under so much pressure that they can only engage in “firefighting and panic management”.

Universal Credit will simplify the benefits system, improve work incentives and reduce fraud and error. It will replace income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; income-related Employment and Support Allowance; Income Support; Child Tax Credits; Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.

Interim results of the staff survey selected by the DWP’s business change director and distributed back to staff last week were mainly negative. One civil servant writes of “a near complete absence of anything that looks like strategic leadership in the programme”. Another says: “There is a divisive culture of secrecy around current programme developments and very little in the way of meaningful messages for staff or stakeholders explaining what will happen and when.”

Taking a direct swipe at managers, another civil servant says: “I have never worked somewhere where decision making was so apparently poor at senior levels … and communications from that level was totally nonexistent. This programme should be a case study for how not to engage with your people to get the most out of them.”

In an email to programme staff on 23 July, the business change director, a senior civil servant, admits that the initial findings from the survey revealed that there was “much room for improvement”.
“We received some very honest comments, which is exactly what we need if we are truly going to address your concerns and make things better … Many comments focused on communication – colleagues were unclear about both their role and future plans for UC. There were also a significant number of comments about senior leadership and the culture within UC.

“Clearly there is much room for improvement and we are starting from a pretty low base. However, without this honesty it would be much harder to tackle positively and move forward. With your help we will do all we can to make Universal Credit the great place to work that we all want it to be.”

The Universal Credit project is being tested in 4 areas. The pathfinder trial is restricted to new claimants who are specially selected. Despite this narrowing of usage, it is understood that significant manual input by officials is required to verify accuracy and deal with other problems.