The Department for Work and Pensions today announced 8 Jobcentre closures in Glasgow, some in extremely deprived communities. The Jobcentres affected include Castlemilk, Anniesland, Easterhouse, Maryhill, Bridgeton, Cambuslang, Langside and Parkhead. A statement issued by PCS can be found on the union website. These closures form part of the massive attack on the DWP launched by then-Chancellor George Osborne as part of his budget in 2015 and resolutely opposed by PCS members and the Left Unity-led National Executive Committee.
Speaking up for Glasgow, SNP Member of Parliament Angus Robertson challenged Tory spokesman David Lidington at today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, from which Theresa May was absent. The full transcript can be read here or a video watched here. PCS, following the announcement at 9:15am this morning, worked through the PCS Parliamentary Group to ensure that MPs could challenge the cuts – because while DWP is planning to cut 20% of their estates nationally, the announcements today cut a full 50% of Glasgow’s Jobcentres.
Closures are due to be completed by March 2018, and today’s announcements begin a 7 week consultation period, to run over Christmas and New Year, during which communities, trade unions, MPs, groups representing claimants etc will all argue that these cuts will be devastating to Glasgow communities, especially in deprived areas. MP for Glasgow North, Patrick Grady, was very clear about the impact on Maryhill.
“How does closing Maryhill jobcentre in my constituency, one of the most deprived parts of the country, help my constituents who want to find a job? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that travelling further to other centres will mean increased costs for people already on the lowest incomes and an increased risk of sanctions? Why do the Government continue to target the poorest and most vulnerable in our society?”
National negotiators from the DWP Group Executive Committee ensured that reps attended all 8 sites to support members. Due to the embargo imposed by the employer, reps had very little time to prepare, however the campaign pack, prepared by GEC officers and issued to branches through Branch Bulletin 82/16, has proved indispensable and resulted in PCS reps making a significant impact in local media – including an article in the Daily Record, and interviews with Ian Pope, chair of the PCS Scotland Committee, Assistant Secretary of the LU-led DWP Group Executive Committee and Secretary of PCS DWP Glasgow Branch with S.TV and on Capital Radio.
A subsequent Members’ Bulletin, MB 64/16, has today been issued to all members in DWP and contains further information about the attack on our Jobcentres.
Across the sites, the first question from many members was, “What about the claimants?” It is clear that the government does not intend to provide any additional support to help claimants travel increased distance to other Jobcentres, should these 8 be closed; this means those who are already subsisting below the poverty line will be expected to fork out the cost of increased travel. It will also mean more travel for some of the hardest to help, such as claimants to Employment and Support Allowance, i.e. those claimants who are not well enough to work.
Staff also have concerns about the suitability of the premises they will be moving to, the extra distances they will be expected to travel, how their personal circumstances – such as childcare needs – will be taken into account when the DWP imposes this change on them. Following discussion with reps about full office union meetings over the next few weeks, and a strategy to oppose the cuts and closures, some staff took the decision to join the union, and at one site two members of staff volunteered to become PCS union reps.
This level of coordination and impact was only possible because the members of PCS in the DWP elect a fighting, socialist leadership – Left Unity – to their Group Executive Committee who will organise members to fight austerity, regardless of what political party is in power, as austerity offloads the burdens of our continuing economic crisis on to working class people instead of the wealthiest 1%. If you wish to become involved in PCS Left Unity, you can print off a join form here.