Bleak guidance for DWP staff, leaked to the Mirror, told workers to bring ‘your own personal mini-buffet’ on a birthday – in what a Jobcentre worker branded ‘a kick in the teeth’
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Junior civil servants were told not to share birthday cakes in the office – despite Boris Johnson ’s birthday party.
A Jobcentre worker blasted the Prime Minister after they were unable to eat together for a colleague’s milestone birthday.
Instead they were given bleak advice for each worker to bring “your own personal mini-buffet” during the third lockdown in Spring 2021.
The guidance still appeared to be in force in November 2021 – even after most legal restrictions were lifted.
Downing Street has tried to defend a cake-sharing gathering for the PM’s birthday on 19 June 2020 by saying it was a “brief moment” between meetings.
Staff, the PM’s interior designer and his wife Carrie gathered in the Cabinet Room in 10 Downing Street during the first lockdown, while indoor socialising was still illegal.
Now Covid guidance for Department for Work and Pensions staff, leaked to the Mirror, appears to show the gulf between the Prime Minister’s behaviour and that expected from junior workers.
The document, issued during the pandemic, described arrangements for “religious festivals, birthdays and retirements etc”.
It said “buffets and food sharing etc” were “not possible” due to “restrictions around hygiene and keeping your distance from other people”.
It added: “There are alternatives you can consider such as bringing your own personal mini-buffet, finding a suitable socially distanced area where you can eat your own food together but stay safely apart, whilst ensuring suitable hand hygiene.”
The guidance even told workers to “avoid passing cards physically to colleagues” and consider making a charity donation instead.
And it said: “Any get-togethers for meals / drinks etc. outside the office should meet current Government and Devolved Administration guidelines.”
The Jobcentre worker told the Mirror: “We in the lower levels of civil service specifically weren’t allowed to arrange events based on sharing food.
“So it wasn’t just 10 minutes and a bit of cake for Boris Johnson – it was a kick in the teeth. It’s relatively small in comparison to people who have lost loved ones.
“But for civil servants at the very bottom to be following strict guidance while doing a gruelling job, as those at the top laughed and ate cake and drank wine together to let off steam, feels really unfair to me.”
A senior DWP manager e-mailed the guidance to staff to remind them ahead of Christmas in November 2021, four months after England’s ‘Freedom Day’.
He wrote: “The use of DWP premises for holding any sort of functions apart from normal business was curtailed some years ago due to an incident at a party.
“At this time and given the current Coronavirus guidance, the holding of social functions on a DWP site is not permitted.”
The guidance added: “The best present is to know we have kept each other (and our relatives) safe from coronavirus.”
The DWP was approached for comment on the leaked guidance.