The DWP has admitted it may reopen some of the more than 100 jobcentres it has permanently closed in recent years as it looks to expand its estate to accommodate additional work coaches being hired in response to Covid-19 and rising unemployment.
While PCS welcomes the additional 13,500 work coach roles, we believe that this will not deal with the additional processing of benefits that the department will have to deliver. We believe that focus should be on helping the individual, supporting them through the system and working to deliver much-needed benefits rather than focusing on redundant job searches and enforcing the sanction regime which has been restarted.
DWP permanent secretary Neil Couling today (15) admitted during a parliamentary select committee session that the Department for Work and Pensions would have to expand its estate in order to accommodate additional work coaches currently being hired as part of a £1bn investment in the department in response to Covid-19 and rising unemployment.
Chris Stephens, chair of the PCS Parliamentary Group and work and pensions select committee member asked the minister, Will Quince, and the permanent secretary if the newly-announced posts would be ‘new’ staff and where would the additional 13,500 workers be housed given the closure of over 100 job centres in recent years.
The minister confirmed that the posts would be new, a result of over £800 million being invested in growing the workforce, and Mr Couling confirmed that the current estate was not big enough to accommodate the growth in the workforce. He confirmed that the department hoped to have 4,500 work coaches in place by the end of October and that new staff could slot into existing buildings with covid compliance measures. He confirmed, however, that they would need ‘a new estate’ and that they were in discussions to grow it ‘rapidly’.
Committee chair, Stephen Timms, asked Mr Couling if the department would consider reopening jobcentres which had been closed and he confirmed that this was a possibility although, he said, it was likely that in order to deal with Covid restrictions quickly they would need newer properties.
This announcement comes after the department began the process of reopening existing jobcentres in order to deal with the growing levels of unemployment as a result of Covid-19 and the return to conditionality for those claiming Universal Credit.