By Sadie Robinson
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2614

Universal Credit is harmful, admit call centre workers

This article is over 5 years, 6 months old
Issue 2614
The benefits system is riddled with errors
The benefits system is riddled with errors (Pic: Chris Talbot/

Former benefits workers have spoken out against Universal Credit (UC). The Tories say UC, which combines six benefits into one, is about simplifying the system. In reality it’s aimed at making life harder for claimants—and acting as a threat to non-claimants.

Two workers told the Guardian newspaper that the new system is harming claimants. Joanne Higgins worked on a UC helpline in Grimsby. She said it felt like the claimants were “not important” but instead are people who “get in the way of” hitting targets.

“It was more about getting the person off the phone, not helping,” she said.

Bayard Tarpley also worked in the Grimsby centre. He said that mistakes in processing claims are built into the system because it is so complicated. “It is having an actively harmful effect on a huge number of claimants,” he said.

Over three million claimants will start to be moved onto UC next year. Eventually it will involve eight million claimants. Fury over the impact on claimants forced work and pensions secretary Esther McVey to admit last week “things might not be going right” with UC.

She retreated in a row over backdating payments to 70,000 ill and disabled claimants who have lost money due to errors. The claimants were underpaid by between £5,000 and £20,000 between 2011 and 2016.

McVey wanted to limit backdating of payments to October 2014, but has now said they will be backdated to 2011.


The retreat followed a report from a group of MPs that attacked the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) “culture of indifference” towards UC claimants.

The report said the DWP knew of the errors in 2014 but at first tried to blame claimants.

McVey hopes her surrender will help dissipate some of the anger and resistance over UC. But the Tories have only retreated when they have been forced to. It’s right to keep fighting them.

The Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac) group held a solidarity summit in London last Sunday. It was in response to Britain co-hosting the Global Disability Summit in London this week.

The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, which includes Dpac, said it had “concerns” over Britain’s involvement in the event.

“The government has been found responsible for grave and systemic violations of disabled people’s rights due to welfare reform,” it said.

It added that the Tories wanted to use the summit to “divert attention and opposition” to their attacks.

Widespread anger over UC means the Tories are unlikely to get away with their attempts to pose as friends of disabled people and claimants. We need to keep the pressure on them—not just to get rid of the worst aspects of UC, but to scrap it altogether.

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