Cuts and closures: Battling to serve the vulnerable

PCS activists are standing up to defend jobs and public services in the face of widespread cuts and hundreds of office closures across members’ workplaces.

As well as national lobbying and campaigning, local activity has been focusing on specific services, members’ issues, locations and political landscapes.   

To help, PCS has now launched an interactive map as a campaigning tool for local activists, which shows where the cuts have fallen since 2010, and where they are planned. The map can be searched by constituency, and includes details of the size of each MPs’ majority from the last election.

Lewisham jobcentre PCS rep Tony Reay tells Activate how the local campaign has focused on protecting a local face-to-face service for vulnerable people.

“I have worked on the front line in DWP for 33 years. One of my roles is as the homeless lead, working with London Street Rescue and various agencies to get people the help they need.

Because of the PFI contract situation, Lewisham jobcentre will definitely close by January. DWP has a plan to occupy space in other jobcentres and clients will have to go to those, but our campaign is about retaining some kind of help in the location where the people are, in central Lewisham.

We’re working with DWP management, Lewisham council, local activists and two of our borough Labour MPs to make it happen. We also held a public meeting.

Ninety per cent of people who use the jobcentre can use new technology and know what to do to look for jobs. They will be dispersed to other places or use technology like Skype.

But the other 10% do need help – they are vulnerable people, often with lots of problems  – social problems, mental illness, addictions. People who have failed work capability assessments and had their money stopped.

Once the jobcentre closes my concern is that these people either won’t get the help at all, or will eventually speak to a third-party advice worker, who will either contact us or contact DWP via a call centre. Delays will occur and benefits may not be paid whilst things get sorted.

We believe the DWP should still have a presence, like an advice hub, where we can still see vulnerable adults or people with caring responsibilities who can’t travel to the other centres.

There are loads of different ways we can take office closures and transform the service. We still need access to face-to-face services to help people navigate the benefits system but you don’t necessarily have to have a fixed location. It’s not one-size-fits-all.

Local management has been very open to discussion and cooperative, though their influence is limited and what we are campaigning for needs additional funding. As always, DWP locally and PCS have to manage the consequences of decisions made higher up.

The Conservative government wants to get rid of face-to-face services. An analogy would be that we are the people ‘behind the tills". What they want is for it all to be automated, where you swipe it yourself and there’s one of us in the corner for when you’ve got an ‘unauthorised item in the bagging area’.

Their attitude is ‘crack on with the computers and if you can’t, you can starve.

But we will get something workable in Lewisham. We are fighting for the service. Premises in central Lewisham would be ideal and we think this is achievable if enough people get behind our campaign.”

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