Unemployed people will be forced to travel further to sign on after the Department for Work and Pensions announced plans to close 78 local Jobcentres across the country.
The Government claims it needs fewer offices to cover the whole country because people tend to submit their claims for benefits online. However, unemployed claimants are still required to attend Jobcentres at least every two weeks, with the Government having trialled weekly sign-ons and even more intensive daily sign-ons.
People who do not attend the meetings are subject to sanctions that MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee warned in 2015 might be “purely punitive”.
Unions say that at least 18 of the threatened Jobcentres break a previous commitment by ministers that no Jobcentre would close if it took 20 minutes or more to reach the next nearest by public transport. The Government said the closures are necessarily because “the way the world works” has changed.
On top of the 78 closures, other Jobcentres will also be moved, with 80 planned to be co-located to other buildings, such as those owned by local councils in a bid to save space.
Ironically, the DWP has also said many staff working at the Jobcentres could themselves be made unemployed – refusing to rule out compulsory redundancies.
In a statement Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment, said the department recognised that “in a small number of cases relocation will not be reasonable or achievable for individuals working in our back office functions and exits may be required”.
Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS trade union, which organises workers in Jobcentres, said: “Jobcentres provide a lifeline for unemployed people, and forcing them to travel further is not only unfair it undermines support to get them back to work.
“We are opposed to these closures and will vigorously fight any attempt to force DWP workers out of their jobs.”
Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “At a time when the Tories are cutting social security and introducing sanctions for low-paid workers, it's reckless at best and perverse at worst for the Government to close so many Jobcentres.
“Only this government’s distorted austerity agenda could lead to such contradictory policies.
“This Tory Government’s decision to close Jobcentres across the country shows they are not serious about helping people to find decent, secure and well-paid work'.
Mr Hinds added: “We will always make sure that people have the support they need to get into and progress within work, that’s why we are recruiting 2,500 more work coaches to help those who need it most.
“The way the world works has changed rapidly in the last 20 years and the welfare state needs to keep pace. As more people access their benefits through the internet many of our buildings are under-used.
“We are concentrating our resources on what we know best helps people into work.
“The changes we’ve announced today will help ensure that the way we deliver our services reflect the reality of today’s welfare system.”
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