The £51m the DWP just gave to a charity is nothing more than blood money

The DWP logo with blood running down
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revealed it’s giving a charity £51m to run a benefits support service. But it’s hardly for the good of claimants. Because the move shows the compromised position the charity could now be in. It’s also telling of the carnage the DWP has created.

The DWP: blood money

DWP boss Esther McVey has said that her department is giving £51m to Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) to run Universal Support. This is a service for Universal Credit claimants that the DWP says is:

to help claimants manage their Universal Credit claim, with a focus on budgeting advice and digital support. Since 2017, Universal Support has been delivered by individual local authorities, funded by grants from DWP.

CAB is a network of small, local charities which already gets around 60% of its funding from government. Now, the DWP is throwing money at the CAB to mop up its Universal Credit mess; a job councils were previously doing. So, why is this a problem?

Money and morality

It’s a simple question of money and morality. I strongly believe that charities should not work with government. Because when there’s money involved, charities often sideline the people they should put first. Just take the case of homeless charities allegedly being paid to round up migrant rough sleepers for the Home Office. Or the mental health charity Mind’s involvement with the DWP. Will the CAB do this? Its position in defending claimants against the DWP is already fairly weak. I see no reason why this won’t get worse.

But the CAB situation poses more questions than there are answers.

Contracts

A major one is to do with the CAB’s contract with the DWP. Is it in the same vein as the Work and Health Programme contracts? Several charities and groups had to agree to disclaimers saying they would not bring the DWP into “disrepute”, ‘damage’ its “reputation”, or harm “the confidence of the public” in it or McVey herself. I did ask the DWP for comment, but had not got a response by the time of publication.

But the CAB told me:

We are unable to share specific details of the grant agreement for confidentiality reasons, as is standard for agreements of this type.

But we can share that the grant agreement confirms Citizens Advice’s independence, and allows us to continue to provide evidence on policy issues. The advice we give will also remain independent.

I think “providing evidence” to the DWP is very different to being able to criticise it and its policies.

History

Let’s not forget, the CAB is not an innocent party in all this either. Some of its local charities were taking part in the DWP’s controversial Workfare scheme; known as Mandatory Work Activity. This was where the DWP sent disabled, sick, and unemployed people on often compulsory, unpaid work experience. Disclaimer: I actually did unpaid Workfare at my local CAB, as part of my Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claim. It worked hand-in-glove with the DWP; often, in my opinion, to the detriment of claimants.

And it’s little wonder the CAB is willing to take such a vast sum of DWP money. It’s been widely reported that successive governments and councils have cut its funding.

Disgraceful ideology

But moreover, the CAB deal shows the Tories’ disgraceful ideology. It’s like they’re admitting they know Universal Credit is causing human carnage. So, their solution is to throw money at charities to mop up the blood and dead bodies. I mean – they couldn’t possibly admit that the benefit is a disaster, could they?

Of course they couldn’t. As I previously wrote, if they did say Universal Credit was failing, they’d be lying. Because the benefit’s architects intended it to be this way.

The CAB: an untenable position

But ultimately, there’s a basic question of integrity at the heart of all this. The CAB can protest as much as it wants that the DWP deal won’t stop it criticising Universal Credit. It reminds me of the famous ‘Mrs Merton’ (the late Caroline Aherne’s comic creation) question to Debbie McGee from years ago:

But what first, Debbie, attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?

If you believe that £51m won’t tame the CAB’s willingness to criticise the DWP, good for you. But I think money talks – even in the third sector. CAB already has the now-untenable position of ‘pause and fix’ Universal Credit. Time will tell whether it bows down even further to McVey and her department’s noxious whims. I, for one, am not holding my breath.

Get Involved!

– Support the blogs Universal Credit SuffererPolitics and Insights and The Poor Side of Life.

– Get involved with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), fighting for disabled people’s rights.

Featured image via Jo Naylor – Flickr and UK government – Wikimedia 

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