The DWP has announced the closure of several of its offices in Scotland, apparently intended to reduce the size of its ‘estate’ – that is, the buildings and offices it uses. It’s true enough that many people working in the system found it impersonal – to that extent, location isn’t what matters most. The estate is about more than buildings, however: it’s also important for people – where they work, how they get there, and what it’s like when they are there.
One of the last research projects I undertook, before the Great Shutdown, was a project listening to the views and experiences of social security officers in Scotland, some of whom were in places that are about to be closed down. We had 228 qualitative responses, 142 from staff in group meetings and 86 written submissions.
My only interaction with other DWP departments is whatever contact our computers have. There’s very little with actual people. Staff move about between roles but once you’re in you’re chained to your desk and don’t get to know any other parts of the business.
There are serious delays, but staff have been clocked from dealing with them by a system that is fragmented and inflexible.
There is no staff to process claims, and there is a backlog of claims. We’re now at a stage where you’re going through your own cases and there’s ones going back … –and they’re vulnerable customers – and there’s no staff being allocated to deal with it. There are skilled staff who could address that, and process claims, but they’re put on the phones. People are put on the wrong jobs.
At its core, the DWP is a people business: it relies on people (its staff) talking to other people (the service users). And service users have lots to say to a human being, if only they can find one.
The fact that you have a time frame at all shows they don’t have a clue – some might take two minutes, but others take 25 minutes, it takes as long as it takes and sometimes you just need to listen to them.
You find yourself cutting them off, trying to wrap it up so you’re under time and they just don’t get the service they should.
(On the phones) I was told (by a manager) to get to the point quicker. The woman was bereaved and crying and I wasn’t prepared to rush her off the phone.
We’ve lost that human touch.
Over the years, there’s been a recurring problem. The central administration of the Department is convinced that the reason why the system doesn’t work is that the boneheads in the offices can’t do it right. The people in the offices, meanwhile, do everything they can to make things work, despite their instructions.
Benefit Officers should be able to help people and use initiative. The current system is too rigid.
They (managers) just look at whether you are following the script and not if you’ve helped the person.
The officials know what needs to be done. They want to be able to sort people’s problems out. Lots of them say that they want to be able to follow problems through until they’re dealt with properly. It’s the system that stops them from doing it.