Our DWP members and their supporters are campaigning hard against proposals to close more than 100 offices across the country, joining protest marches and lobbying their MPs ahead of our national public meeting and lobby in parliament on 28 March.
The government's proposals, announced in January, put thousands of jobs at risk and would mean unemployed people having to travel further to get help getting back to work.
They would mean that by March 2018:
- Closure of 78 of 714 jobcentres in England, Scotland and Wales, with work and staff transferring to the nearest office
- Another 80 jobcentres to be co-located in local authority buildings
- Closure of one fifth of the DWP’s 150 non-frontline offices, including benefit processing sites and call centres, with a further 40 only guaranteed to stay open for another 3 to 5 years.
When the closures were announced, our DWP group executive committee identified 11 ‘hotspot’ offices where there was the greatest risk of a significant number of redundancies. These are Cumnock, Poole, Barrow, Annesley, Llanelli, Porth, Wembley, Bishop Auckland, Coatbridge, Holborn House Preston and Warrington Birchwood.
PCS is campaigning against these closures and has been pressing DWP for a full explanation as to why they have chosen offices to close where it is clear it could lead to large numbers of job losses. DWP claim that the proposed office closures are not about staffing reductions, but that claim feels hollow in offices where there is little prospect of redeployment.
Short-term cost cutting
PCS banners were highly visible as about 70 people joined a rally in Bishop Auckland on Saturday to stop the Department for Work and Pensions from closing Vinovium House and moving 83 Child Maintenance Service staff, 64 of whom are woman the vast majority of whom work part time close to home as they have caring responsibilities for children in nearby schools and elderly parents, employees to other sites.
Gordon Mabon, PCS Durham branch chair, said in a speech reported by the Northern Echo that the staff had accumulated more than 1,800 years of employment between them at the site and spend an average of £10,000 a month in the town.
He said: "The closure is part of a programme of civil service cutbacks that should be seen for what it really is, a short term cost-cutting measure.
"It will have deep and profound negative effects on the 83 staff at Vinovium House, their families and the town centre itself."
Local MP Helen Goodman, who also took part in the rally, said: "The people who work in Vinovium House are part of public services in this country, good quality public services.
"They make sure payment goes to families who need it, their work is absolutely vital."
Ms Goodman has raised serious concerns around the proposed closure of local DWP offices.There has been no proper equality impact of the proposed closure.
In a letter to employment minister Damien Hinds, she outlined how the loss of the DWP office would be a blow to the local community and economy of Bishop Auckland.
“We have already lost our courts, HMRC offices and driving test centre. The staff are extremely well respected – they were a top 5 office when they administered incapacity benefit and are currently the highest performing office," she wrote.
"They are 100% committed to the local area shown through the phenomenal fundraising that they do for the area which reflects positively on local perception of the Department for Works and Pensions.”
Urge your MP to sign early day motion 1001 to oppose the threat hanging over Vinovium House.
Fighting nonsensical plans
The previous weekend dozens of people had turned out for a PCS rally in terrible weather in Barrow to oppose the closure of the office that processes industrial injuries disablement benefit.
In a Commons debate in January, Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock, highlighted the work of the town's industrial injuries team, based at Phoenix House, whose experience and expertise has helped to take the claimant handling time for one of the nation’s most complex benefits down from 175 days to 33 days, meaning that some of the most vulnerable people in the country, with terminal conditions such as asbestosis, have been able to receive their benefit before they died.
The North-West Evening Mail reported on the protest, which included our DWP president Fran Heathcote's address to the protesters. She said: “An easy way to define public services is this - it's the difference between a civilised existence and living in poverty and squalor.
“These nonsensical closure plans appear to have been drawn up by sticking a pin in a map. There's been no thought for workers or community services.
“They are doing this in communities all over the UK. These are just proposals but, unless people stand up and do this, they will become a reality.”
Lobby your MP
Members and supporters across the country have already emailed their MPs to urge them to join the lobby in committee room 16, Houses of Parliament (St Stephen’s gate entrance) Westminster, but we need as many people as possible to turn up to the public meeting at 1pm on 28 March and lobby their MPs from 2-4pm. If you have never attended a Lobby of Parliament before PCS will be on hand on the day to provide support.
What you can do
Urge your MP to sign Early Day Motion 1064, which calls calls on the government to suspend the closures.