Mon 30 Jan, 2017

Jobcentres are a safety net for everyone. They must be a local service.

Question 1: Do you agree with the proposals? What overall comments would you like to make on the proposals?

We disagree with the proposals. We have concerns in a number of areas.

The proposals have been developed without any consideration of the local context, which is astonishing given that the proposals are about the withdrawal of local services. Since the announcement of the closure plans, the DWP has been unable to say how many people currently use the Jobcentres which are due to be closed. They are also unable to give information on how many of those people are disabled, or to give a breakdown of age or gender. In other words, the DWP does not know what the impact of the closures will be on the people who currently use them. The DWP has also confirmed that it has not carried out an Equality Impact Assessment on the proposals and will not do so until a decision has been reached. Without this impact assessment, or information on the number of people who will be affected, or consideration of the financial and time impact of the additional travelling time to a further away Jobcentre as described below, we do not believe the DWP can make an informed decision on the closures.

Rather than asking local people or transport providers about the extra distances and times involved for those traveling to their “new” Jobcentres, or sending staff to undertake the journeys, the DWP has relied on Google Maps to estimate the extra distances and times. The figures from Google Maps quoted in the consultation document simply do not reflect the reality for people undertaking these journeys. To begin with, the figures include estimates for the additional time for travel by car. Car ownership is as low as 24% in some parts of the east end of Glasgow1 , much lower than the average of 50% for Glasgow was a whole, which itself has the lowest levels of car ownership of any Scottish local authority area2 . The figures for public transport do not include the cost of bus fares, an obvious and far more relevant indicator than car journey time. The cost of a return journey between the affected Jobcentres is currently between £3.75 and £4.50, more if children are also travelling.

For many claimants on a fixed low income the cost of bus fares is not affordable, meaning they will have to walk to the new Jobcentre. Scottish Greens MSP Patrick Harvie and a number of Green councillors, council candidates and local activists walked from Bridgeton Jobcentre to Shettleston Jobcentre and from Maryhill Jobcentre to Springburn Jobcentre. The first walk took an hour and the second an hour and two minutes, and these were one way journeys. So walks in excess of two hours, not a 22 minute round journey by car, will be the typical experience for claimants facing the loss of their local Jobcentre. It should also be noted that the distances and times quoted are based on Jobcentre-to-Jobcentre journeys but in reality people will be making the journey from their homes, so for some the distances and times will be even longer. We do not believe this is reasonable or necessary.

The DWP has said that with the move to online services, as part of the UK Government’s “Digital by Default” strategy, there is less of a need for people to physically attend Jobcentres and therefore less need for centres to be situated in local communities. This totally ignores the fact that in deprived areas, people are more likely to lack both IT access and IT skills, as demonstrated by the Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) report “Internet Access in Glasgow’s Deprived Areas”3. CAS surveyed Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABx) clients and found that 42% of respondents had never used the internet, 35% were unable to use a computer and almost 70% of those surveyed who receive benefits would not be able to make an online benefit claim, or would need help to do so. These findings are in line with other reports4 linking digital exclusion to low income, age and disability. Going online is therefore not a viable alternative for many of the people facing long and costly trips to other Jobcentres as a result of the closures. Withdrawing vital Jobcentre services from vulnerable people based on the vacuous slogan of “Digital by Default” is both callous and dangerous. Evidence of how fair access and continuity of service will be achieved should be a basic prerequisite prior to bringing forward these proposals. The fact it has not been presented suggests no such evidence exists.

The consultation document indicates that the proposed closures will “achieve significant savings for the taxpayer”. There does not appear to have been consideration of any alternative ways to save money, for example by moving to smaller premises in the same area, or co-locating with other local services. In the case of Castlemilk Jobcentre, the landlord has offered to reduce the rent on the premises but the DWP has not pursued this.

Question 2: Will the proposals to close Bridgeton, Castlemilk and Maryhill jobcentres have a direct impact on you? If yes, please provide further details.

We believe the closures will have a direct impact on other local services such as CABx, money advice services and local libraries. These services are already overstretched. They will face extra pressure as more people seek local support, as an alternative to traveling long distances, to undertake online activity such as searching for jobs and applying for benefits. For many people local libraries will be the only other available source of free internet access, but as there are time limits on usage this will not enable them to fill in lengthy benefit application forms.

Question 3: If you currently use Jobcentre Plus services at these jobcentres, what impacts are there on the time and cost taken to travel to your new jobcentre?

Not applicable

Question 4: Are there any other particular impacts of the proposals that DWP should take into account when making a decision?

We have already said that claimants will face longer journeys to attend Jobcentres. We believe this will result in more claimants being sanctioned for being late to appointments. Far from supporting more claimants to find work, the closures will increase hardship in the affected communities.

We are concerned about the potential impact on the physical and mental health of people who are forced to attend other Jobcentres. Physical health conditions, such as chronic pain, are worsened by stress. The impacts of Jobcentre closures we have outlined above and below, such as increased journey times, increased travel costs, increased risk of sanctions and lack of access to IT, are all likely to cause further stress and therefore to exacerbate existing health conditions. A mental health support worker told us of his fears that his clients, who already experience stress when attending the Jobcentre, may be unable to cope with a move to an unfamiliar environment. Given that Glasgow has poorer health than the rest of Scotland, and Scotland as a nation is known as “the sick man of Europe”, closing 50% of the city’s Jobcentres could have negative health consequences for a very sizeable section of the population.

Research by Glasgow Centre for Population Health5shows that Glasgow’s poor health relates to socioeconomic deprivation, poor housing and poor government decisions. If the Jobcentre closures go ahead we believe this would represent another poor government decision. We are asking for a health impact assessment to be carried out prior to any decision on closures.

Notwithstanding the absence of an Equality Impact Assessment, we believe that the impact of the closures will be disproportionately 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. Or bring their children or relatives with them, with the resultant additional costs, longer walking time and general stress.

We do not believe the remaining Jobcentres will be able to deal with the increased numbers of claimants without a detrimental effect on services. People who currently use Shettleston Jobcentre have told us they already experience long waits to be seen. We are also not sure that there will be sufficient space within the remaining Jobcentres to ensure claimants have privacy when discussing their circumstances.

There are issues of territorialism in some parts of Glasgow, particularly the East End. We have been told by local residents that young people from Bridgeton will simply not go to Shettleston Jobcentre due to fear of violence.

Question 5: Are there alternative services that could be provided that would be a benefit to some claimants? For example this could be a member of Jobcentre Plus staff based in a community venue to provide help with looking for work. Please explain your answer, with specific examples and evidence of the potential demand for the service where possible.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with the DWP, as would most local stakeholders. The point is that any decisions on changes to existing services should be made after these discussions, and a thorough appraisal of options, have taken place.

Question 6: Please provide any additional comments that you have.

It is completely unacceptable that the consultation covers only three of the Jobcentres planned for closure. No changes should be made to existing Jobcentre services without consultation and without assessing current and projected need, usage or impact. Langside Jobcentre, for example, serves the second most densely populated council ward in Scotland with at least 700 additional homes due to be built over the next few years. The closures do not just affect current users – Jobcentres are a safety net for everyone. They must be a local service.

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