PCS Left Unity: take united action to scrap the cap

Please find below a statement from the LUNC on the NEC decision to hold a consultative ballot.

Take united action to break the cap (printable PDF)

PCS will be holding pay briefings over the coming weeks and all comrades are asked to make sure that their BECs are attending, that you campaign for a massive Yes Yes vote in branches and that through trades councils, political tendacies and other organisations you encourage other unions to canvass their leadership to hold similar ballots and get behind the motion carried at the TUC congress calling for joint co-ordinated industrial action.

Please make sure that you print off copies of the statement to hand out at the briefings and any other union events between now and the end of the pay ballot.

Pay statement

PCS Left Unity welcomes and supports the decision of the PCS National Executive Committee to launch a consultative ballot of civil service members to secure a mandate for the scrapping of the public sector pay cap and that funds should be made available for an above inflation pay rise. Also – In the event of the government refusing to scrap the cap that the union achieve the strongest possible indication from members that they are prepared to take industrial action. Members will be informed that a further statutory ballot would be required before industrial action can take place.

This decision offers our union an unprecedented opportunity to build opposition to the pay cap and to build the organisational strength in our workplaces. Left Unity urges all activists to unite in the strongest possible effort to deliver the best possible YES-YES vote to ensure the weak Tory government gets the clear message – we will not tolerate this attack on our living standards any longer.

The ballot, the resolution carried at the TUC Congress and the debates at the fringes should send a clear message to the leaders of the TUC that paying lip service to Congress policy on building a joint coordinated campaign and industrial action is no longer acceptable. The Tories must not be allowed to divide public sector workers by giving minor concessions to “deserving” workers, as they have done with their cynical attempt of offering the prison officers 1.7% and the police 2%, while maintaining the cap for the “undeserving”. Critically, the PCS campaign makes clear that breaking the cap in itself is not enough – adequate funding must also be secured to ensure all public sector received an above inflation pay increase.

Left Unity believes that other public sector unions should follow the example of PCS and organise similar ballots to build the maximum pressure on the Tories to deliver a fair and equitable settlement across all of the public sector.

The Trade Union Act was designed to impose a legal obstacle to workers taking industrial action and while this barrier is not insuperable the TUC must now implement the RMT motion passed at last year’s Congress that called for a special conference for the movement to plan a strategy to overcome this barrier.

The ballot will run from Monday 9th October to Monday 6th November and the full resources of PCS and its activists must be concentrated on winning the greatest mandate possible. Delivering this campaign plan must be the top priority for Left Unity and all PCS activists.

The Tories believe they can hang on to power to prevent a Corbyn government. Along with the political pressure it is now imperative that the trade union movement fights to address the many grievances their members have. Pay is the issue that can unite millions as pensions did in 2010-11 – But this time joint coordinated campaign and action must be seen through until the pay cap is scrapped and ALL public sector workers receive an above-inflation rise.

Gordon Rowntree
National Secretary

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LU statement on GE 2017 – unions must step up the fight against austerity

Demonstration in Glasgow, 15/6/17, launched by students and trade unionists to call for an end to austerity

Theresa May called a snap election with the intention of winning a landslide mandate to continue austerity and use the Brexit negotiations to turn Britain into a low wage tax haven. Instead she lost seats while the Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party won seats, resulting in a hung Parliament.

Her credibility and authority are in shreds and her leadership is hanging by a thread. Deprived of a stable government to push through their agenda the Tories have been forced into a humiliating pact with the reactionary Democratic Unionist Party.

May has no mandate for austerity, including the pay freeze, office closures, cuts to jobs and services and attacks on the welfare state and National Health Service.

The Tories along with the media and the Blairites are now attempting to regain control by invoking the ‘National Interest’. Despite talk of the ‘end of austerity’ the ruling class will not abandon their cuts and privatisation programme without a struggle.

Left Unity demands the trade union movement now fully mobilises to build on the surge of support for the anti-austerity Corbyn manifesto. The TUC must, as a matter of priority, call a national demonstration to end austerity, the public sector pay freeze and to defend the NHS. It must now implement the policy moved by PCS and passed by Congress for joint, coordinated public sector action to end the pay freeze. And it must organise an emergency conference to discuss how to build resistance to the Trade Union Act.

The election result vindicates the PCS political strategy put forward by the Democracy Alliance National Executive Committee and agreed by Conference 2017 to give the maximum support allowable under union rules to support Corbyn’s anti-austerity manifesto, including supporting anti-austerity candidates. This resulted in applications to the NEC from branches to support anti-austerity candidates..

Left Unity recognises that in Scotland many PCS members cast their vote for the Scottish National Party as the best way of preventing a Tory government, not least of all because the Scottish Labour leader called for a vote for the Tories in some areas to prevent a second Independence Referendum.

Under its left leadership PCS should now step up its campaigns to defend members’ interests through its industrial and political strategies. Demands already placed on the employer to stop cuts in jobs and services should be pursued more vigorously than ever. Full support will be given to members resisting Tory cuts and attacks. PCS should also step up its work building links with other unions, especially so through town and city comnittees.

PCS has an unequalled record fighting the Tories austerity programme and the Alternative the union advocated was a key influence on the Labour manifesto that galvanised millions, including 72% of youth to vote for hope over despair. Building support amongst the youth is of significant importance in this period and LU believes there is a key role for the Young Members Network with thousands of new staff being recruited, many of whom will be apprenticeships and fixed term appointments.

Left Unity will be at the forefront of building opposition to this weak government and campaign for the early election of an anti-austerity government with Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.

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Janice Godrich: use your vote in Group Elections and vote Left Unity!

Janice Godrich, national president of PCS, re-elected for the 16th time by members, writes in a personal capacity to encourage all PCS members to vote for Left Unity candidates in the DWP Group Elections. The decisive win for the socialist left in the NEC elections must be replicated at Group level if we are to continue our fight against austerity.

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Vote for Left Unity in DWP Group Elections

Group elections open tomorrow. If you want battle-tested union reps to lead the union in DWP, then the only option is to vote for all Left Unity candidates.

Download and display our 2017 poster.

Our record is clear. At a time when the Tory government is intent upon smashing trade unionism in Britain, our union has won victories in DWP. The best Flexible Working Hours Agreement in DWP applied in the old Benefits Directorate. Our GEC, through campaigns and negotiations, won the extension of this to the rest of DWP. With application of direct pressure from members, our GEC won extra Christmas leave in Universal Credit. “Schedule adherence”, the essential micro-management tool in our contact centres, has been ended through the patient work done by the GEC. We have won thousands of new staff, and, at a time when DWP has been committed to recruiting only temporary staff, we have campaigned successfully for the conversion of huge numbers to permanent contracts.

All of this rests upon the strength of members, organised in the workplace. With thousands of new members recruited and dozens of new reps trained, LU is key to organising a fighting, democratic union in DWP.


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Fight the cuts: re-elect a Democracy Alliance NEC

The events of the past year, with several members of other groups elected to the National Executive Committee, have clearly demonstrated that the “opponents” of Left Unity do not have an alternative strategy to beat the cuts and are unable to work with the left within the union to maximise unity amongst members. Below is a cogent explanation of all the things our NEC has fought for and achieved, with our support as members, over the past year.

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Left Unity would welcome the election of Jeremy Corbyn as PM

The National Committee of PCS Left Unity, elected every year by all members of Left Unity, have agreed the following statement on the General Election.

Statement from LUNC on the General Election

No To Austerity – No To The Tories

Left Unity is issuing this statement in response to the calling of an early general election. This announcement from Theresa May has surprised a lot of people given that she ruled it out only a few weeks ago. As socialists in PCS, we believe that this election gives us an opportunity to get rid of this vicious Tory government and for our union to effectively intervene in the election to put forward our anti-Austerity Alternative in the interests of our members and class.”

Theresa May’s pretext for calling an early election, is for the Tories to gain a clear mandate on their BREXIT strategy. This doesn’t fool anyone. No doubt the Tories will seek to ensure that BREXIT will dominate the election campaign. However, we must ensure that the issues important to PCS members and their families are raised at every opportunity. We have faced the brunt of attacks from this Governments austerity programme. This includes thousands of job cuts and redundancies, office closures, attacks on wages, pensions and terms and conditions.

PCS members have suffered the most prolonged squeeze on wages since the Civil Service was formed. Many of our members are also suffering as a result of the more generalised attacks on the welfare state. Benefits cuts are leaving millions unable to feed themselves and their families. The NHS are facing life-threatening cuts and further threats of large scale privatisation. The widespread use of zero hours contracts which are taking us back to the early days of the last century. The housing and education crises in working class communities are acute. All these need to be challenged in the lead up to the ballot on June 8th.

One of the first things that the Tories did after they were last elected was to introduce new ultra-draconian anti-trade union laws. These make it illegal to strike unless 50% vote in favour with at least a 50% turn-out – even though they themselves were only elected by 24% of the population. They are doing this to neutralise any effective opposition to the further attacks they are planning to both the welfare state and workers’ rights.

PCS Left Unity welcomed the election and re-election of Jeremy Corbyn on an anti-austerity programme. He has provided unwavering support to PCS campaigns over many years. In particular, he and his supporters, especially John McDonnell have stood with us on our central campaign for an alternative to austerity and an end to the cuts in pay, jobs and pensions.

It is vital that he launches an election campaign based on socialist policies. Central to that is opposing austerity and putting firmly back on the agenda the whole question of the re-building of the welfare state and the public sector, including re-nationalisation to ensure that workers and communities alike are protected. This is both a political choice and an economic necessity. PCS must ensure that the promises he has made to our members are delivered.

The election is also going to raise major issues for our members in the nations. There is thethe possibility of a second Independence Referendum in Scotland and a  greatly complicated political situation in Northern Ireland due to the suspension of the Assembly.

Immigration is another area that has already been raised by the right wing press as an issue. PCS will continue toto oppose all forms of racism and campaign for workers unity.

In this election PCS members should support those candidates who commit to policies which are aligned with those of the union, especially on the issue of austerity and its effects. Left Unity would therefore welcome the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister of a Labour Government committed to anti-austerity policies.

Whatever the outcome of the general election it is important that we have a PCS leadership that is capable of facing  the challenges that face our union and its members.  It is vital to secure a Democracy Alliance victory with which to defend pay, jobs and services.and Left Unity urges everyone to work hard to achieve this.

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A personal message from PCS President, Janice Godrich

Janice Godrich, national president of PCS, writes to all members to urge them to vote in the national union elections and to re-elect her, to continue the fight with the government office – whether in the Cabinet Office or at Departmental level – to win gains for our members on pay, terms and conditions and our rights at work.

Posted in Elections

Vote Democracy Alliance in the 2017 NEC elections

There is one option in the NEC elections 2017, for members who want a democratic, fighting union, who want an experienced leadership that can build genuine campaigns, not just carp and make up slogans on the sidelines. That option is to vote for the Democracy Alliance.Vote Democracy Alliance in 2017

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PCS Pay Day Protests – smash the 1% cap

Every region of the country and every civil service department were represented yesterday in the PCS Pay Day protests. Those branches which put in the work to build attendance, saw scores of members turn out to show their desire to break the 1% pay cap.

It’s impossible to gather together all of the pictures. In Scotland alone, there were protests in Cumbernauld, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Musselburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee, East Lothian and plenty of others, sometimes more than one protest, covering different departments.

What follows gives a flavour for the true spread of the protests, which were an inspiring reminder that we’re one PCS family and will fight on together.

It’s worth noting that HMRC treated the pay petition as industrial action and denied all facilities for the pay day protest, showing that the employers our members work for are still determined to smash the union wherever they can.

Janice Godrich, National President, and members of the NEC, lead the protest outside the Treasury in London.

Central protest in Glasgow, Buchanan St, addressed by DWP Greater Glasgow Chair, Charlie Liddle

Katrine Williams, NEC candidate and VP of DWP Group, leads a joint protest outside Welsh Gov’t Cardiff

The most remote pay day protests? Lochinver workers from Marine Scotland demand fair pay.

NEC member Zita Holbourne leads BIS London protests

Kevin McHugh, HMRC GEC and PCS Deputy President, with protesters at Benton Park View, deepest darkest North East

Darlington DBS staff voice their demand to break the cap.

Lawrence Dunne and Home Office & DBS staff join the protests on the Mersey

NEC member Candy Udwin sent in pictures from the protests of culture sector PCS members. This group is protesting outside the British Museum, London.

ACAS and BIS staff addressed by Nick Parker, former branch secretary of DWP Lincoln. Across the Midlands, workers turned out for pay day protests.

DWP Wirral, led by NEC member Martin Cavanagh, proudly rubbishing the claims that DWP workers can’t be involved with the pay day protests. Birkenhead Land Registry joined in the protests.

HMRC Edinburgh showing that across the civil service, across all major cities and departments, the campaign for fair pay must continue.

Steven Warwick from the national Young Members Committee and DEFRA members

NIPSA President Carmel Gates and General Council members join together to show solidarity with the PCS Pay Day protests from NI Civil Service staff. NIPSA and DWP Group have been working very closely together on Universal Credit.

HMRC Bathgate members are joined by Neil Findlay MSP, chair of the PCS parliamentary group in the Scottish parliament.

NEC member and DWP Group President Fran Heathcote pictured with Greater Manchester ARMs members, united behind PCS in seeking to break the pay cap.

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PCS Parliamentary Group keeps the political pressure on DWP

Left Unity members in Glasgow organised the city-wide meeting to oppose office closures. Similar meetings are being organised around the UK.

A third backbench debate has been secured by Chris Stephens MP, chair of the PCS Parliamentary group and MP for Glasgow South West. MPs in Glasgow reacted angrily against government plans to close half the Jobcentres in Glasgow and were thoroughly briefed by the PCS DWP Group Executive Committee (GEC) and by officers from the branches involved.

Across the UK, branches and the GEC are engaged in work with MPs to keep the political pressure on the government over the office closures that do not help claimants or staff, but will in fact harm the services DWP delivers and will potentially result in job losses for an estimated 750 DWP staff, according to the Minister.

Hansard’s record of the backbench debate on Thursday 16th March show that the many points being made by PCS – including against sanctions, against additional travel, against the loss of experienced staff, against the local economic impact of closures are all receiving close attention from MPs. And the government continues to have no answer.

Copied below are some excerpts from the debate. Barrow, Coatbridge, Alexandria, Cambuslang, Castlemilk, Langside and other sites all receive specific attention from MPs, and this is all good news. The PCS Left Unity-led GEC will continue to utilise every means at the disposal of the union to push the government back, in their narrow, austerity-driven office closures programme.


“The House is rightly exercised—as are many hon. Members—by the haphazard nature of the closures and the lack of evidence or rationale to support them, other than that they will save money in the short term. The lack of an adequate equality impact assessment is particularly damning. The closures have been presented by the Government as a straightforward process of rationalising the estate—that is, as sensible, considered and thought through in great detail. I would suggest otherwise, however. Far from this being a planned process to make the most of the expiry of contracts to improve services and locate them where they are needed most, it is a cost-cutting, penny-pinching cuts programme being done with poor to non-existent consideration of local conditions.” Chris Stephens, SNP, MP for Glasgow South West.

“For the record, we should remember that at least 30,000 people have lost their jobs in the civil service, and this is part of that. He spoke about the increasing workload. Citizens advice bureaus have reported that their workloads have gone up by 88%, in particular because of personal independence payment claims. Tile Hill jobcentre in my constituency is being closed, so people will have to walk miles or get buses. Importantly, a lot of them suffer from disabilities, so they will be at a disadvantage.” Jim Cunningham, Labour, MP for Coventry South

“Finally, I want to highlight the link between the push to digital services and office closures, when it becomes much more difficult to find a person to talk to in a public office. I have spoken recently about the unfair telephone tax, where the most vulnerable are hit with call charges for contacting the DWP and other government services. The DWP is a long way from being digital by default. A vicious circle is emerging, whereby access to advice and support is being blocked to those who need it most. Every Member here can testify that our offices are now providing more and more of that support through our constituency casework. Widespread jobcentre closures will only increase the workload on other staff in the DWP, giving them less time to spend on individuals.” Chris Stephens

“I was interested to read an article in the Evening Standard on 31 January by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about the disability unemployment rate in London, in which he wrote:

“The gap between the number of disabled people in work compared with the employment rate of non-disabled people in London is around 28 percentage points—a figure that is frankly unacceptable in 2017.”

“I agree with the Secretary of State about that, but it is a bit rich for him then to say:

“We’re building a locally-based system that works with businesses in the area and can offer people intense support”.

“I think that is a bit rich, because in London the DWP is proposing to close one in three jobcentres: 22 of the capital’s 73 existing jobcentres. Of the 22 that are closing, 15 are located in boroughs with a higher than average claimant count, and, as we know, London has a higher than average claimant count than the country as a whole. I am also concerned that the rate of unemployment among young people, the disabled and those from black and minority ethnic communities is higher in London than the national average. In fact, Office for National Statistics data from last September showed that BME unemployment in London stood at 9%. Ministers should review the criteria they use to determine the closures.” Heidi Alexander, Labour, MP for Lewisham East.

“One of the puzzling things about the closure programme is that the Government also want to increase the workload of jobcentres and want some people to go more frequently. They also want to introduce conditionality for people who are in work. It is difficult to see how those additional tasks can be managed at the same time as shutting down so many jobcentres.” Stephen Timms, Labour, MP for East Ham

“I fully appreciate the need for any Government to spend public funds wisely, but the decision to slash the number of jobcentres will most definitely have a negative impact on my constituents. The most obvious consideration is the additional travel costs that service users will face in getting to their appointments. This will barely register as small change for a UK Government Minister or indeed an MP, but it is an unwanted additional expense for someone already struggling on a low income. Constituents will also be burdened with increased travel times, which in turn puts them at an increased risk of being sanctioned under the DWP’s draconian and uncompromising rules. Again, the Minister may say, “It’s only three miles’ difference. What’s the big deal?” (…)

“A report from the Disability Benefits Consortium found that 93% of respondents to a survey of service users thought that the process for applying for PIP was stressful: 80% experienced difficulties in completing the claim form, while 82% felt that the application process had a negative impact on their health. Will Minister explain how closing one of my constituency’s two jobcentres will improve that experience for service users?” Ronnie Cowan, SNP, MP for Inverclyde 

“At least one thing can be said of the Department: it is consistent in its handling of the matter. Right from the start, it has been a shambles. As we have heard, after the news broke in the press that half Glasgow’s jobcentres were to be axed, it took seven hours for the Department to write to the affected MPs and inform us. It did not see fit to inform us or even consult us; nor did it bother to speak with the devolved Administration in Scotland. (…)

“I wonder whether the Minister knows, for instance, of the issues affecting Cambuslang in my constituency, where the Main Street jobcentre is due to close next year. Is the Department aware that Royal Bank of Scotland closed its doors there just months ago, that local traders have subsequently suffered a reported 30% drop in footfall, or that the two remaining banks, TSB and Clydesdale, have announced that they too are to close in the coming months? Has it considered at all the cumulative impact that those closures will have along with the closure of a major resource such as the jobcentre? I am guessing the answer to all of those questions is no. Perhaps if Ministers had bothered to consult me, they would be better informed. The Department will have seriously to make up for its former ignorance by consulting service users, local stakeholders—such as the local Church of Scotland minister Neil Glover, who has spoken out against the jobcentre closure and described it as a moral issue— and elected representatives, and by working with the Scottish Government. Scottish Employability and Training Minister Jamie Hepburn has written to and met Ministers from the Department, not only to express grave concerns but to seek clarity on the issue. He has requested that UK Ministers meet benefit recipients and others from the communities that will be affected by the proposals.” Margaret Ferrier, SNP, MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton

“As to digital interactions, the ward in which Eastern Avenue jobcentre is to close is one of the most deprived in the country; 74% of people there are in the 10% most deprived in the country. Many of them do not use the internet at all, let alone have the capacity to apply online—there are very high levels of digital exclusion. Ironically, the council is currently doing some work on digital inclusion, commissioned by the DWP, around Eastern Avenue jobcentre; that work will have to be halted. Again, there does not seem to have been any recognition or cognisance of the impact that the cuts will have on that work.

“Whether or not the estate is underutilised at Eastern Avenue—or indeed at Cavendish Court, where the Government are expecting claimants to move to—is open to question. I have been to both jobcentres and there certainly does not seem to be any underutilised space—Cavendish Court in particular is bursting at the seams—but we do not know, because the Government have not published any of the evidence and do not seem to have done any of the work behind it. I met the manager for my region, North, East Yorkshire and the Humber, after the Minister advised me that that was the best way to proceed. It was not her fault, but I am afraid the manager had absolutely nothing to add to what the Government had already published.” Louise Haigh, Labour, MP for Sheffield Heeley

“Coatbridge is a local DWP back office that employs about 250 people and is facing closure as a result of these cuts. I have been in contact with union representatives about the closure since the announcement was made and I recently attended the annual general meeting of the local branch of the Public and Commercial Services Union to discuss the impact of the closure on its members and on the local community. I was particularly concerned to be informed by the union that the DWP’s announcement was made without any consultation with the workers or the union at all. The DWP did not inform me of the lack of consultation when I was contacted about the closure. Although the DWP has stated that the closure will not involve any job losses, it has indicated that the jobs in question will be moved to alternate locations in central Glasgow or Motherwell, both of which are approximately half an hour’s drive away—and that is if we assume no traffic delays.

“Coatbridge is a community filled with young families. Many people base decisions about who they work for on the location of their potential workplace: they choose to work in locations that allow them to drop their children at school in the morning or be near an elderly or poorly relative. There is also the issue of additional travel costs for the predominantly local staff to and from Glasgow and Motherwell—again, colleagues have covered that well, so I will not repeat the points they made. For many workers affected by the cut, the loss of that essential proximity to home, the additional travel and the associated costs may mean that they need to seek alternative employment. I can hardly see how a Government can describe themselves as pro-family when they put so many in such a precarious position.

“The union members I spoke to were concerned about the dilution and inevitable reduction in the quality of services provided to service users that the cuts will cause, as was well articulated by my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan). The closure will affect not only current employees and their families but local businesses”. Philip Boswell, SNP, MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

“I was genuinely taken aback when I went to see the Minister and the civil servant who was there to support him did not even know what benefit was processed in Barrow. That is lacking in and of itself when we are talking about 80 people in my constituency who are losing their jobs. As the Minister for Employment, he will have some understanding that when skilled office jobs are eliminated in a geographically remote constituency such as Barrow, they have little prospect of being replaced by something else, and people cannot realistically travel to another place two or more hours away. (…)

“Due to the nature of the benefit, closing Phoenix House and taking the facilities somewhere else in the country, inevitably employing new people, will do damage to the service provided. The centre processes industrial injuries disablement benefit. The team say proudly that they have more than 100 years’ experience between them of processing that benefit. Due to that build-up of expertise, the Barrow team has taken part in a process that has reduced the processing time for that benefit from 175 days to 33 days. That is an achievement and welcome in itself, but we must also take into account who receives the benefit. It goes to people who have developed terrible conditions. Many of them, such as those suffering from the likes of asbestosis, are terminally ill due to negligence in past decades. That is why they have been given compensation in the form of the benefit. The whole point of focusing on driving down the time that it takes for them to get it is that it makes the difference between them receiving it while they are still alive and receiving it after they have died.” John Woodcock, Labour, MP for Barrow and Furness

“I also thank the PCS Scotland union for the excellent job that it has done assisting Members of Parliament throughout the country, and particularly in Glasgow, where we heard the rather unwelcome news just before Christmas that the Government intend to reduce the jobcentre estate by half, from 16 jobcentres to eight, two of which—the Castlemilk and Langside jobcentres—are in my constituency. (…)

I would ask the Minister why, despite several genuine and friendly invitations, he has not taken any time at all to visit any of the jobcentres in Glasgow that he wishes 207WH Jobcentre Plus Office Closures Jobcentre Plus Office Closures 16 MARCH 2017 208WH to close. I do not know what he thinks will happen to him if he comes, but I can assure him that either I or one of my hon. Friends from the city of Glasgow will look after him. He will be okay. Even at this late stage, I implore him to visit a jobcentre in Glasgow to hear what the staff and the users have to say.” Stewart Malcolm McDonald, SNP, MP for Glasgow South.

“[T]here are special circumstances that set the Alexandria jobcentre apart. The catchment area shares similar characteristics with others earmarked for closure. There are high levels of deprivation and unemployment, which, as in other urban areas, must be taken into consideration. The Alexandria jobcentre differs, in that it serves a population that is not only urban but suburban, in the true sense, and a rural community, which results in a set of unique challenges for those living in those communities, especially given that the area includes the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park boundary.

“An argument put forward by the DWP to support its proposal is that it is now easier to access jobcentre services, whether over the phone, online or in person. Let me take those in order. For citizens living in rural areas, the practical challenges are many. People whose line connections depend on weather conditions, which in my constituency are temperamental at best, do not have easy access to services by phone, as the Department argues. Given BT Openreach’s dubious record in elements of the rural sections of my constituency, there are difficulties in online connectivity.” Martin Docherty-Hughes, SNP, MP for West Dunbartonshire

“Many questions still need to be answered. The Government appear to believe that the current levels of employment and the introduction of universal credit mean that more than one in 10 Jobcentre Plus offices can be closed, regardless of the impact on the local community. According to House of Commons Library analysis, 33% of jobcentres in London, 18% of jobcentres in Scotland and 16% of jobcentres in the north-west will be lost at a time when communities are already under real pressure due to seven years of Tory austerity.

“Jobcentre Plus faces considerable challenges in the immediate future. From this April, it will play a much greater role in directly providing employment support when new referrals to the Work programme cease. From the end of this year, the Work programme and Work Choice will be replaced by the Work and Health programme. Most people claiming JSA are currently asked to take part in the Work programme, while Work Choice provides specialist employment support for disabled people.”

“More difficult journeys also increase the risk of claimants being sanctioned by staff for being late for or missing appointments. Will DWP issue guidance that, when considering sanctions, jobcentres should take account of increased journey times due to closures? There is already a backlog of sanctions, which in some cases is leading to money being withdrawn from claimants months after non-compliance, even though claimants may in the meantime have done what they were asked to do.” Margaret Greenwood, Labour, MP for Wirral West

Damian Hinds, as Minister for Employment, has a lengthy response which is included in the document linked to above.

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