This morning I walked from Bridgeton Jobcentre to Shettleston Jobcentre. Bridgeton, together with Parkhead, are two of the seven Glasgow Jobcentres the DWP proposes to close, with claimants attending these two centres being transferred to Shettleston. As the Green candidate for Calton, the ward which covers both Jobcentres, I find these proposals extremely worrying. The further away a job centre is, the more difficult it is for people to get there to claim the benefits to which they are entitled, and to get assistance and support to find work. Making it harder for claimants to attend the job centre means it is more likely they will be late for, or miss, appointments, increasing the risk of sanctions. It is impossible to see how any of this improves people’s chances of getting into employment.
I set off this morning to get a sense of the journey people will have to make. With me were Patrick Harvie MSP, Kim Long, candidate for the neighbouring Dennistoun ward, and fellow Green candidates Andrew Smith, Tanya Wisely and Allan Faulds, all of whom are standing in wards which will be affected by the citywide closures. We were joined by other Green activists and concerned locals.
As we walked through Bridgeton, Parkhead and on to Shettleston, we talked to people about the closures. Some were unaware of the closures and shocked to hear about them; a typical response was “Are you joking?”, followed by “How will they get there?”. Most people did know, however, and were strongly opposed. They were opposed to losing the services from their areas, and also had some specific concerns. One person talked about territorialism, telling us that young people would simply not go to a Jobcentre in a different area. Another person, who currently attends Shettleston Jobcentre, was worried about the impact the increased number of people using the Jobcentre would have on waiting times, saying that on previous occasions she has waited up to two hours. People also talked about the difficulty of finding the extra money for bus fares, and how tiring it would be to have to walk from Bridgeton to Shettleston (and return) in all weathers.
Glasgow Greens share all of these concerns. We are also concerned that the impact of the closures will particularly be felt by disabled people, older people and women. Women are more likely to have caring responsibilities and will therefore have to make arrangements to have children or relatives looked after while they make the longer journey to a busier Jobcentre. The alternative will be to bring their children or relatives with them, with the resultant additional costs, longer walking time and general stress.
We walked on a very cold, but dry day today. It took us, a group of reasonably fit and healthy people, around an hour. We didn’t have to make the return journey and we won’t have to do it again in a fortnight. Reflecting on our walk today, it seems that the Jobcentre closures are simply the next phase of attack on social security following the programme of changes euphemistically known as “Welfare Reform”. Welfare Reform has in reality been about making it harder for people to prove their entitlement to benefits, and reducing the level of those benefits. Having created these bureaucratic barriers to support, the DWP is now going further by setting up physical barriers.
On our walk we asked local people, as we are asking everyone, to respond to the DWP consultation on the closures. The consultation is here https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/proposal-for-the-future-of-bridgeton-castlemilk-and-maryhill-jobcentres and closes on 31 January. If, like us and the people we spoke to, you are opposed to the closures please respond and make your voices heard.