MPs have again attacked the government's plans to close more than 1 in 10 jobcentres, just days before a PCS national lobby of parliament on 28 March to oppose the closures.
During a backbench debate yesterday (16 March), called by PCS parliamentary chair Chris Stephens, a number of MPs from across the country criticised the government's plans announced in January which put thousands of jobs at risk and would mean unemployed people having to travel further to get help getting back to work. A number of MPs had previously blasted the plans as "an attack on the vulnerable" in a Commons debate in January.
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 a public meeting at 1pm on the day 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.
In the Westminster Hall debate, Chris Stephens said: "A vicious circle is emerging where access to advice and support is being blocked to those who need it most."
He also described the proposals as a "deeply flawed process, tainted by the lack of consultation with local community planning partners."
Heid Alexander (Lewisham East, Labour) raised concerns about "the impact on people who rely on the jobcentre to access help, advice and support".
"As politicians, we spend a lot of time talking about how much money is paid to individuals in benefit and less time on exactly what support is provided to help people back into work. It goes without saying that people need to be able to get to that help and support easily," she said.
"I am also concerned that the rate of unemployment among young people, the disabled and those from black and minority ethnic communities is higher in London than the national average. In fact, Office for National Statistics data from last September showed that BME unemployment in London stood at 9%. Ministers should review the criteria they use to determine the closures. We have not yet seen an equality impact assessment of the closures.
She said that in London the DWP is proposing to close 1 in 3 jobcentres: 22 of the capital’s 73 existing jobcentres. Of the 22 that are closing, 15 are located in boroughs with a higher than average claimant count.
Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde, SNP) described how, over the course of the previous parliament, the DWP estate shrank by 17%, with the government intent on reducing the size by a further 20%.
"I fully appreciate the need for any government to spend public funds wisely, but the decision to slash the number of jobcentres will most definitely have a negative impact on my constituents. The most obvious consideration is the additional travel costs that service users will face in getting to their appointments. This will barely register as small change for a UK Government minister or indeed an MP, but it is an unwanted additional expense for someone already struggling on a low income," he said.
My fear, however, is that the issue highlights, once again, a more general problem—the UK Government’s complete lack of compassion or genuine concern for vulnerable people. Instead they pursue spreadsheet politics where the only thing that matters is the bottom line."
He supported calls for closures to be suspended until a wider consultation is conducted, to enable MPs to properly assess the impact of the decision on all our constituents.
Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley, Labour) highlighted the fact that workloads for DWP staff have been increasing for years.
"It is claimed, on the government website, that the decisions are due to the claimant count reducing and the number of digital interactions increasing, and the fact that 20% of the DWP estate isunderutilised," she said.
"To take those one by one, it may be the case that the claimant count is falling, but I do not think that anyone could tell jobcentre staff anywhere in the UK that their workload has reduced in the past 7 years and is likely to continue to reduce — not least because of the rollout of Universal Credit, which is incredibly complex."
What you can do
- Make your voice heard - contact your MP now and arrange a meeting for 28 March and tweet using #FightClosures
- Urge your MP to sign Early Day Motion 1064, which calls calls on the government to suspend the closures