The DWP is investing millions in creating robots that can work on benefits claims without any human intervention, the Guardian reported today.
According to the newspaper, the DWP have hired over 1,000 extra IT staff in the last 18 months and is spending over £8 million a year on an “intelligent automation garage” where over 100 new types of welfare robot are being developed.
In addition, the DWP’s Digital budget rose 17% to 1.1bn in the past year and has recruited 520 extra staff.
The DWP has also set up a private technology company, Benefits and Pensions Digital Technology Services, which recruited more than 400 staff in the year to April
And many millions are being handed over to tech multinationals including IBM, CapGemini and UiPath to assist the DWP.
A range of tasks is set to be handed over to the new generation of machines.
16 bots are being used to help communicate with claimants and process claims.
Machine learning is also being used to try to detect fraud, meaning that claims could be refused without claimants or staff being aware how decisions were reached.
For example, tests are underway to decide if machines can judge whether claims for childcare and housing costs are truthful.
DWP staff are also working, largely in secret, on creating “digital images” of claimants using information from a wide range of bodies, including private credit reference agencies, the police, the Valuation Office Agency, the Land Registry and the National Fraud Initiative.
The DWP have refused to answer freedom of information requests on how it gathers data on claimants to create digital profiles.
Frank Field, chairman of the Commons work and pensions select committee, warned that vulnerable claimants “will be left at the mercy of online systems that, even now, leave all too many people teetering on the brink of destitution”.
“We’ve already seen, in the gig economy, how workers are managed and sacked, not by people, but by algorithms,” he said. “Now the welfare state looks set to follow suit, with the ‘social’ human element being stripped away from ‘social security’.”
Universal credit claimants are at the forefront of the new digital drive and already struggle to get decisions changed once a computer algorithm has been employed.
The Guardian cites one case in which an automated computer system misreported a claimant’s earnings meaning that he lost a month’s benefits.
Jobcentre staff were powerless to change the decision, even after he provided payslips to show that it was wrong.
The claimant ended up homeless and estranged from his family as a result.
You can read more on the rise of DWP robots here and more about claimants suffering because of computerised decision making here.