The DWP is in chaos over coronavirus

The coronavirus and the DWP logo
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has descended into chaos. This is because the government has said that those people sick with coronavirus or affected by it can apply for Universal Credit. But there’s a gaping hole in the DWP and government’s response. Because these people may have to visit a Jobcentre to complete their application.

The DWP: increasing support?

In a statement on 13 March, the DWP said that:

those affected by coronavirus will be able to apply for Universal Credit and can receive up to a month’s advance up front without physically attending a jobcentre.

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It also noted that from 19 March:

People receiving benefits do not have to attend jobcentre appointments for at least 3 months, starting from Thursday 19 March 2020. People will continue to receive their benefits as normal, but all requirements to attend the jobcentre in person are suspended.

As the DWP tweeted on Friday 20 March:

But there is a huge flaw in this plan.

A basic flaw

As author and working class academic Lisa McKenzie tweeted:

When explaining how to claim Universal Credit, the DWP says:

You also have to verify your identity online. You’ll need some proof of identity for this…

You need a passport, driving licence and/or credit and debit card.

But here’s where the chaos begins. Because if you don’t have the right ID, you cannot complete your Universal Credit application online. As the DWP again notes:

If you cannot verify your identity online… You can take 3 forms of proof of identity to your first interview at your local Jobcentre Plus.

So, what the DWP is saying is that if people infected with, or affected by, coronavirus cannot prove their ID online, they’ll have to go to a Jobcentre to complete their claim.

Social distancing? What social distancing?

This seems to be completely at odds with the government’s current line of “social distancing”. As the Guardian noted, this means:

To reduce the spread of the virus, you should avoid meeting up with friends and family, avoid venues such as pubs, clubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres, and work from home wherever possible. If you need to see the doctor or other essential services, use the phone, internet or social media if possible. You can go out for a walk for exercise, but stay two metres away from others.

In a Jobcentre environment, it would be practically impossible to stay two metres away from the DWP member of staff you’re dealing with. Moreover, many people claiming Universal Credit would have to use public transport to get there in the first place. And also, a mixture of healthy and potentially infected people all going into Jobcentres is a recipe for disaster.

The DWP says…

The Canary asked the DWP for comment. It appeared to reiterate what its earlier statement said. A spokesperson stated:

People are able to verify their identity online. Where they’re not able to do this they will be presented with options to verify their identity in other ways.

Jobcentres remain open to support people who are unable to use online services or phones, including homeless people.

A coronavirus ticking time bomb

So, the DWP is going to be forcing some coronavirus patients to expose themselves to others in order to get support. Or alternatively, it is risking healthy people catching the virus. In December 2017, 30% of people applying for the benefit were unable to complete the ID verification process online. So potentially, there could be countless infected people having to go to Jobcentres. And often, these may well be some of the poorest people in the UK. Because data shows that it’s people in what are classed as ‘low skilled’ (therefore low pay) jobs who don’t have a passport:

Passport Stats

This sums up the government’s approach to the coronavirus crisis. The Universal Credit system is creating a ticking time bomb of potential coronavirus infections. Yet no one has yet thought to put out the fuse.

Featured image via NIAID – Flickr and Wikimedia 

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  • Show Comments
    1. Call me cynical but I think the DWP now trying to change some rules for claimants is probably more to do with shielding the sensitivities of people who typically vote Tory (tourism managers, publicans, small shop owners etc), who’ll soon be unemployed and are going to be shocked by what claimants must endure.

      But it’s usually the working class who claim. Now many middle class people who agreed with the Tory’s tough stance will one day have to go into the Jobcentre to sign on–and it’s going to jolt them. I think maybe the Tories are keen to delay that day of reckoning.

    2. Doesn’t this illustrate the essential indignity of the system? And isn’t that in keeping with what this crisis has revealed: the venerated free market is hopeless under any but optimal conditions. A Tory government has just discovered that only socialism can save us, just as happened in 2008/2009. The mantra is “whatever it takes.” Why wasn’t that the response to homelessness, to poverty, to food banks, to the deaths of people whose UC didn’t arrive in time? If there is no need for people to lose their jobs because the government can underwrite the economy by borrowing, why is there ever any need for people to be left in poverty or destitution? It’s a choice. It’s always a choice. And the ideology of the free market is a smokescreen for that choice. In addition, the NHS is now the nation’s saviour. Funny, I remember in 2008 the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan calling it “a 60-year mistake.” What does he have to say now? And didn’t Thatcher try to privatise it? Not only in this crisis should people not have to risk their health to get benefits, but they should never have to suffer the humiliation of what is nothing better than begging from the State. We are rich enough to provide decency for everyone. We should provide it collectively, socially. The details aren’t hard, it’s accepting the principle which matters. Guaranteed basic needs should be the policy, at all times. Not a basic income, because the Right will exploit that. Basic needs, socially guaranteed. Lift the humiliation from those who fall on hard times.

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