Once again, the DWP puts ‘value for money’ over the needs and welfare of jobcentre claimants and even its own employees, writes CHARLOTTE HUGHES
THERE has been much talk within the media and among activist groups concerning the closure of jobcentres across Britain.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claims it is because more claimants are submitting claims online and that they want to provide more value for money.
It is also relocating jobcentres within local government premises to supposedly provide a more streamlined service.
I believe that its largest motivation for doing this is the estimated £180 million it is estimating to save.
The government wants to be seen as providing “value for money” and this might do just that.
Yet by doing so, it is wilfully ignoring the needs of the claimants who travel to the jobcentres slated for closure.
Contrary to popular belief, when claiming any kind of benefit, you are by no means financially well off; every penny needs to be accounted for.
Most rely on being able to attend their local jobcentre for their appointments without having to fork out for expensive bus fares or having to walk miles to a jobcentre that the DWP will now regard as local.
Take the jobcentre in a town like Stalybridge in Greater Manchester for example. It has been proposed that the jobcentre there be merged with my local jobcentre in Ashton-under-Lyne. The DWP will argue that the new merged jobcentre will be easy to reach because it is on a bus route.
However, it fails to take into account that the area in which Stalybridge jobcentre is located has some rural areas, not within walkable distance and, for those on a tight budget, too expensive to pay the high bus fares. Buses often get stopped in times of bad weather and are often delayed.
The DWP often doesn’t take into account or give any understanding as to why a claimant might be late due to transport failure. This inevitably results in sanctions against the claimant.
Many people will be affected by the closure of the proposed jobcentres. It is not just healthy people that have to attend jobcentre appointments. Disabled people claiming employment and support allowance are placed in the work-related category also have to attend appointments.
People in this category might find using public transport very difficult or impossible. They will then be in a position of either having to find a way to attend or face a sanction.
There is also the concern that many jobcentre employees will lose their jobs, or be encouraged to take redundancy or early retirement.
Some have welcomed this, after being on the harsh and often cruel receiving end of a jobcentre adviser’s unreasonable demands.
I have no doubt that they will retain the staff that hit their targets. After all, the DWP sees these members of staff as an asset. But why should we be concerned about the jobcentre employee job losses?
The DWP intends to make as much of the benefits system digital by default and, therefore, much harder for someone with limited computer skills or none to make a claim for benefits.
Although there is little support within jobcentres now, there is some, and you can speak to an adviser while attending an allotted appointment. If they are lucky, a claimant might have a reasonable adviser. This option, I feel, will go.
Staff the DWP sees as not “reaching targets” because of their compassion and understanding might face loosing their jobs. The government claims that no-one will lose their jobs, but Civil Service union PCS thinks there well could be.
This is a very big concern. You can’t discuss anything with a computer screen, nor can you discuss anything that requires an element of understanding with an adviser that is mainly focused on reaching targets.
While the DWP sees this all as “value for money,” I hold great belief that quality of care and the ability to do so should come above mere pounds and pence.
Real value for money is to show the ability to be compassionate, understanding and mindful that every person that enters a jobcentre is an individual, not a number or a target, that needs positive encouragement in a tough period in their life.
You cannot encourage a person with fear; this only drags them down into the depths of depression and anxiety. It is cruel.
On top of this will be the added pressure of having to find the money to pay for transport to another jobcentre that could be miles away.
So while some are celebrating the closure of these jobcentres and the job losses, please spare a thought for the claimants.
And lets not forget that some of the jobcentre employees that face loosing their jobs might be the compassionate ones that have failed to reach targets and are also being punished.