Council expresses concerns over job centre closures

Completing an employment application form

Liverpool City Council has written to the Government to express concern over the closure of three job centres and calling for it to reconsider.

Earlier this week, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that centres in Norris Green, Edge Hill and Wavertree are to close as part of a nationwide programme – despite the city having one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Councillor Lana Orr, Cabinet member for employment and skills, said: “There is no doubt that the closures will cause greater hardship for our poorest residents who use these centres. This means that people who currently walk to a job centre will have to take two buses – money they can ill afford when they are already struggling to make ends meet.

“It is the Government which insists that people come to Job Centres for appointments, and threatens them with benefit sanctions if they don’t. By making them travel further – in some cases two bus rides – it put them at greater risk of being late to their appointment and therefore of being penalised.

“Some of these people are living on just £73.10 a week and can’t afford to pay for broadband at home. They need the professional support offered by staff to fill in their applications. The closure of these centres means that residents in most of north Liverpool, where claimant rates are highest, will have no job centre. How can that be right?

“These decisions are being made by Whitehall officials based on demographics, rental cost and accommodation and not on the basis of need.

“The DWP need to be thinking creatively and innovatively about this, as we have done with the move of the Williamson Square centre into St Johns Market. We have got some ideas around co-locating them with other council services and community buildings. This would deliver savings, link people up with other support services and ensure their employment and training opportunities aren’t damaged.

“It is just another obstacle hindering people’s chances of getting into work and the savings made could well be outweighed by an increase in the benefits bill.

“It is an ill thought through plan that will hit the most vulnerable in the city.”

TEXT OF LETTER TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WORK AND PENSIONS, DAVID GAUKE

Dear Mr Gauke,

We are writing to raise Liverpool City Council’s concerns regarding proposals to reduce the provision of job centres in the city.

Based upon reports released in the media, it would appear that there are 78 job centre sites affected nationally and that more than 10% of those sites are located in Liverpool and the wider Liverpool City Region.

In our view, this targeting of closures on a sub region where unemployment remains high requires clearer clarification and explanation, and we would be grateful if you could provide the rationale outlining how this decision has been reached.

We also note that the closure of local job centres will have a detrimental impact upon those reliant on job centre support to find work. For people on extremely low incomes, the extra cost of travelling to more distant job centres will be prohibitive and, whilst we appreciate many customers may use online services, the very poorest in our communities continue to suffer from digital exclusion. We would be grateful therefore to see copies of the relevant Equalities Impact Assessment which has been used to underpin this decision. We would also be grateful to understand what steps you are taking to mitigate the impact this decision will have on service users in order to ensure they can continue to get the help and support they require.

We would also be grateful to understand what analysis has been carried out on the impact this withdrawal of locally accessible services will have on claimants’ ability to get work. According to newspaper reports, the Department for Work and Pensions expects the change to deliver national savings of £180 million per annum. The same saving could be produced by getting about another 9000 families into work – that’s less than 200 families for each facility scheduled for closure.

The Council and Job Centre Plus have already done some excellent joint work in delivering a new combined Job Centre and One Stop Shop within St Johns. We believe that this demonstrates models do exist whereby existing job centre services can be kept close to the communities they serve. We welcome the ongoing talks locally about further co-location of services and would ask for your support at a national level in delivering a positive outcome for local residents and communities from these discussions.

We look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Joe Anderson – Mayor of Liverpool

Cllr Lana Orr – Cabinet member for employment and skills