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Employee Pay (DWP)

Volume 602: debated on Wednesday 18 November 2015

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Margot James.)

I wish to raise the important issue of the pay of employees in the Department for Work and Pensions—or, perhaps more accurately, the low pay of those employees.

As we know, pay throughout the public sector has been subject to restraint for a number of years, and the pay in the DWP is no exception. A TUC report published in 2014 showed that public sector workers were, on average, £2,245 worse off in real terms than they had been before the previous Government took office. However, the issue of low pay is felt particularly acutely in the DWP, as it is one of the lowest paid civil service Departments, and staff now struggle to make ends meet.

Some 87% of DWP staff—74,701 employees—now earn less than the UK mean average wage of £27,200 a year, and 47% of staff—39,526 employees—earn less than £20,000. The Public and Commercial Services Union estimates that thousands who are at the bottom of the DWP pay scale will not even earn the national living wage that was announced by the Chancellor in the Budget if their pay rises by only 1% a year until 2020. DWP pay increases have been heavily capped for the last six years, and in 2010 and 2011 there was a 0% increase for staff earning over £21,000.

As my hon. Friend knows, in 2011, when we were in the very depths of the recession, the Scottish Government were able to introduce a living wage for all civil service staff in Scotland, along with a non-redundancy clause agreement. Why was such a move not possible for either the Labour Government or the coalition Government—or, for that matter, the present Conservative Government?

I do not know the reasons for that, but I think that it should have been possible. As my right hon. Friend will know, in Scotland those earning less than £21,000 a year have received a £250 pay rise over the last couple of years.

Between 2012 and 2015, all DWP staff received a 1% increase, and the Chancellor has announced his intention to limit civil service pay increases to 1% for the next four years.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees that, if inflation is taken into account, that 1% increase effectively amounts to a 6% or 7% wage cut, and women in particular are bearing the burden.

The hon. Gentleman is correct, and I will come on to the fact that it is estimated that what has taken place in the DWP is effectively a cut of £2,245.

There is also the issue of no pay progression within the Department. Since 2009 there has been no mechanism for DWP staff to move from the bottom towards the top of the pay range for their grade. This has meant staff have become frozen at the bottom of the pay range with no means of ever progressing further. Around 70% of DWP staff are in this position.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this matter to the House. The issue he has just mentioned is very important. Surely it is right to reward people as they progress and achieve goals and standards of knowledge and expertise, which is very important in the DWP, and move from one level to the next. Does he think that the Government should consider retraining people so that they can step up the wage scale?

I agree with that, because if there is a pay range and scale, there should be natural progression through experience and training.

With pay increases limited to 1% year on year, simply not enough money is available to create meaningful pay progression and give all staff some annual pay increase. The Treasury has consistently prescribed that any pay progression must be funded from the 1% increase and no additional funds have been made available. My first question to the Department is this: will the DWP change its attitude towards pay progression and allow employees to move up the pay grades and scales?

Let me turn to the increase in pensions and national insurance contributions. DWP staff are members of one of the civil service pension schemes and since 2010 members’ contributions to the pension schemes have been steadily increasing, averaging 3.2% by 2015. These increases have, effectively, eroded the value of the recent 1% pay rise. This has meant that DWP staff take-home pay now has hardly increased at all since 2012. DWP staff also expect to see an increase of around 1.4% in their national insurance contributions in 2016, when the new state pension comes into effect.

Some 40% of DWP staff are on tax credits. The DWP has told the PCS that 40% of DWP staff have to rely on tax credits to supplement their low rates of pay. This is clear evidence of how low pay rates are in the DWP. If the measures to reduce tax credits that were announced in the July Budget were ever to be implemented, there would be a significant impact on DWP staff.

The Government have made many public statements saying that employers should pay a living wage and not make their employees rely on tax credits to supplement low pay. It is ironic, therefore, that so many DWP employees are made to rely on tax credits because the Government will not pay their own staff a decent salary. Furthermore, the Government have justified tax credit cuts by declaring that when their employees lose their tax credits, employers will naturally pay higher wages. However, if the Government rely on tax credits to subsidise the low pay of their own workforce and they are unwilling to compensate these workers who stand to lose from changes to tax credits and the 1% pay cap, it is hard to see how other employers can be expected to practise anything different.

DWP pay is an equality issue. Some 69% of staff are female, predominantly employed in the lower grades.

There is a contradiction. On the one hand, Government policy is equal pay for women, but on the other hand they reduce women’s wages at the DWP and other Departments.

I entirely agree, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that we are seeing an increase in the pay gap between male and female workers.

Low pay in the DWP therefore has a detrimental effect on women. As the highest paid grades in the DWP have a majority of male staff, this has created a significant gender pay gap in the DWP. My next question is this, therefore: what equality impact assessment has been carried out to ensure the DWP complies with the Equal Pay Act 1970 and is not at risk of equal pay claims?

There have been increased workloads and efficiency, but no reward. Time and again, Ministers and those running the Department thank DWP staff for their hard work in keeping the Department afloat and delivering welfare reform. Recognition is always welcome, but DWP staff feel that the thanks need to be translated from mere words into a form of recognition visible in their pay packets.

Furthermore, the DWP workforce has been cut by 30% since 2010, so the pressure on those remaining has increased. In March 2015, the Secretary of State told DWP staff that productivity had increased significantly. He cited record levels of employment, faster processing, fewer calls chasing progress, and an annual operating cost £2.5 billion lower than in 2009-10, yet none of those improvements in productivity has been reflected in increases in DWP pay.

The DWP is one of the lowest paid Departments in the civil service. Prior to civil service pay being delegated to individual Departments, all civil service grades were paid the same, irrespective of which Department they worked in. However, as a consequence of pay delegation, pay levels now vary greatly from one Department to another, and DWP pay is particularly low. There are now well over 100 pay bargaining units across the civil service, and the DWP, as the largest Department, does not do well compared with other civil service Departments.

This will be brought into sharp focus with the roll-out of universal credit, when 2,000 HMRC colleagues, earning considerably more than DWP staff, will transfer into the DWP and will be earning a lot more for doing the same work. For example, 40% of staff in the administrative officer grade in the DWP earn less than the HMRC administrative officer grade minimum. Anyone who joins HMRC on its administrative officer minimum will come in more than halfway up the DWP administrative officer pay scale at £18,415.

People who work in the private sector are better off. This Government seek to justify public sector pay restraint by spreading the myth that life in the public sector is altogether cosier than in the private sector, but the truth is that pay for those in the DWP is now so low that some people in the private sector employed on civil service contracts are leaving them behind. For example, in Steria, the company that won the contract for HR shared services, where some DWP workers saw their work privatised, members have just been awarded a 2.3% pay increase. In Maximus, another DWP contractor, members have recently accepted an offer that will give the majority of them increases of over 15%, with the lowest paid receiving an increase of nearly £5,000.

Increases for private sector workers on DWP contracts are therefore considerably in excess of the 1% awarded to DWP staff. Of course, those pay increases in private sector contracts are funded by the taxpayer every bit as much as DWP pay is funded by the taxpayer. We commend the pay increases for those staff, but we fail to see the logic of the 1% pay cap being so rigidly imposed on public sector workers when that is not the case for private sector workers delivering Government contracts.

We fear that there is discriminatory performance-related pay in the DWP. The Department also pays some staff a non-consolidated payment each year. This is worth 1.9% of the annual pay bill—around £44 million. The payments are distributed based on performance appraisal markings and grade. Staff who have received a “must improve” box marking—around 8% of DWP staff—receive no non-consolidated payment. Other non-consolidated payments vary from £450 for an administrative assistant to £1,750 for a grade 6 employee. These non-consolidated payments have been shown to be discriminatory in many ways. You are more likely to receive the higher award if you are full time, white and under 60, and more likely to receive no non-consolidated payment if you are over 60, BME or part time.

Terms and conditions are also diminishing. At the same time as pay increases in the DWP have been subject to central Government pay restraint and caps, DWP staff have seen a gradual erosion of other terms and conditions. This has taken the form of increased pension contributions and changes to pension entitlements, repeated attacks on the civil service compensation scheme, restricted access to flexitime, a draconian approach to attendance management, and cuts in staffing.

The sense of anger among DWP staff is high. When the 1% pay award was imposed on DWP staff in July, more than 5,700 protest letters were sent to the Secretary of State and the permanent secretary. The PCS receives constant feedback from its members on the impact of pay restraint. My next question therefore is: what assessment has been carried out to ensure that DWP staff reach the so-called living wage target? Or will steps be taken to ensure that this is delivered earlier? Some DWP staff reported regularly borrowing from credit cards to make up the shortfall in their wages and being unable to afford to tax their cars.

My last question is: do Ministers believe that the enormous improvements in productivity that DWP staff have achieved on their watch should be rewarded with an additional pay increase above the 1% cap?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) on securing this important Adjournment debate and all the other Members who have contributed in it. My office took particular interest in this one. I also congratulate him on his 25 years of work in public service, his role as vice-chair of the PCS parliamentary group, and his interest in DWP and its valuable work.

DWP is the largest Government Department, with a pay bill of £2.5 billion in 2015-16. The Department employs more than 84,000 staff, who work in various locations across the country and serve more than 22 million claimants and customers, some of whom are the most vulnerable in society. When I have spoken about that before, many of my colleagues have been surprised, because a lot of MPs are not aware of just how vast the organisation is and the diversity of work we do in job centre networks, benefit centres and the corporate services. For example, we support people to find work, develop policy, pay pensions and investigate fraud. The Department is delivering substantial welfare reform changes, including the roll-out of universal credit, the introduction of personal independent payment and pension reforms, while meeting our efficiency challenges.

We appreciate the professionalism and contribution of DWP employees in continuing to deliver those changes. The results of their efforts have included a new record high UK employment rate of 73.7%; unemployment at a seven-year low of 5.3%; an employment rate for young people who have left full-time education up at 74.3%, the highest in more than a decade; and a reduction in operating cost of £1.9 billion since 2009-10. I have made many trips around the country to meet those front-line DWP staff and to see the great work that they do, with great professionalism. Tomorrow I am off to Blackpool as part of my visits, when I am going to see the work being done on PIP. I am sure that hon. Members from all parts of the House will join me in acknowledging the hard work and contribution of the dedicated DWP staff.

In 2010, the country was facing tough economic challenges, and the Government had to make some difficult decisions in order to address the country’s huge budget deficit. As was the case across Europe, public sector pay restraint was part of the overall approach taken to reducing the deficit. That was not unique to the public sector; not only did many workers in the private sector also face pay freezes, but some faced pay cuts. As a Government Department, DWP has to comply with the Government public sector pay policy to set pay awards in line with Her Majesty’s Treasury and Cabinet Office guidelines.

Let me now deal specifically with our Department’s approach. Since 2010, DWP has focused on increasing the pay of its lowest paid. In the emergency Budget of 2010 the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a two-year pay freeze for those in the civil service earning more than £21,000. But, crucially, for those earning under £21,000, DWP took advantage of the flexibility and opted to pay more than the minimum £250 flat-rate increase proposed in HMT guidance. DWP actually provided awards ranging from £400 to £540. In 2010, it also increased the base salary of the lowest grade by £890. The pay freeze was followed by an annual pay remit of 1% on consolidated pay increases for the remainder of the last Parliament. During that time, DWP pay negotiations included discussions on how best to distribute the available funding. DWP opted to pay the majority of its staff a 1% increase each year, but continued to focus on increasing the pay of its lowest paid through higher base salary increases—for example, 3% in 2014 and 2.5% in 2015.

In addition, Departments have flexibility over how they allocate their non-consolidated performance payments. DWP is the only large Department that pays this to the majority of its employees, distributing on the basis of grade and performance marking. This year, DWP allocated performance awards of between £450 to £750 to junior staff.

I am listening carefully to the Minister, but the reality is that the Government have been rumbled on tax credits. They have been rumbled on payments to junior doctors, and now they are going to be rumbled on the treatment of DWP staff. When will the Minister address the very specific questions that my hon. Friend asked him in this Adjournment debate?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but all good things come to those who wait patiently. I am only part way through my contribution, and I have already addressed some of the points, but more is to come.

Pay and allowances are part of the total reward package. Employees also benefit from a package including a staff discount scheme, generous annual leave entitlement and a defined benefit pension scheme.

On the point about equality, DWP has one of the lowest gender pay gaps in Whitehall. It currently stands at 3.4%. Typically, it is rated at 5%. If an organisation or body is below 5%, they are making progress. The Department is committed to improve that further through the introduction of a range of measures including name-blind recruitment and female representation on senior recruitment panels. This is something that we take very seriously, and we are proud to be leading as a Department in that area.

Let me turn now to the future. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in this year’s Budget that the Government will fund the public sector workforce for a pay award of 1% for the length of this Parliament. Each year, DWP negotiates with PCS and other unions on their pay awards and that will continue for future pay deals.

Very quickly on that, can the Minister give us some indication of the wastage among the staff—those who move on to other jobs? I do not expect an answer now, but could he give me a response later? I ask my question because the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) referred to the wage increase for those in similar jobs in different companies. The increase in their wages was significant. I was wondering whether the Minister’s Department was holding on to its staff. If it is not, what steps is he taking to address that?

I will have to come back on those specific details.

The Chancellor also announced in the Budget earlier this year the very welcome introduction of a statutory national living wage for those aged 25 plus from April 2016. Our Secretary of State has long championed the principle that, if people work hard, they should be rewarded. He welcomed the introduction of the national living wage as

“perhaps the most significant measure in all the Budgets that I have listened to during my many years in this House.”—[Official Report, 9 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 482.]

Will the Minister also provide us with an assessment of DWP staff who are younger than 25 years of age, because they will not get access to that living wage? If there is a 1% pay increase year on year, DWP staff will be earning 36p more than that national living wage.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. My next bit will specifically address the under-25s. Our pledge is that the national living wage will go over £9 by 2020. From my recollection at the general election, the Scottish National party pledged to pay about £8.60 or £8.80, and Labour pledged £8. I think that we can all support our decision to get the figure to over £9 by 2020.

Crucially, on the point about the under-25s, DWP will meet its statutory requirement and pay the national living wage to all employees regardless of age. That will include those under the age of 25. All Members will welcome that.

DWP will raise the pay of around 600—0.7% of our staff—who will fall just below this level from April 2016. The Department is ensuring that our contracted staff will also be paid at the new national living wage from April 2016 onwards, as we are conscious that we have large supply chains and people with whom we have direct work. For the remainder of the Parliament, all increases in employees’ salaries will be in line with the guidance from Her Majesty’s Treasury.

Can the hon. Gentleman tell me how many agency people the Department employs, how many consultants it does business with and how much that costs?

I thank the hon. Gentleman; I will be providing a written update in answer to that very good question.

I was asked about pensions. As changes are made to pensions, we have made sure that the lowest paid see the smallest increase and that those paid more contribute more progressively, but it remains a good pension scheme, with a defined end. As for promotion through the pay scales, for those who can get promoted through the bands—there is typically a 10% difference between them—that remains in place.

The Minister is being very generous in giving way. Can I ask him about Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs staff coming into the DWP as part of the roll-out of universal credit? That will expose a lot of differences in civil service pay.

I cannot give a specific answer, but we are aware of that issue, which is something we continuously look at, because it is a significant point that has been raised.

In conclusion, while endeavouring to provide increases for all, the DWP has focused on its most junior grades, and that will remain our focus—again, I think we have cross-party support for that. We are proud that the DWP’s gender pay gap has consistently been one of the lowest in Whitehall and we are committed to continue to focus on this. I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this very important debate.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.