Hoylake Jobcentre to close this Friday, 25th August
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24 Aug 2017
Hoylake Jobcentre in my constituency, Wirral West, is set to close on Friday, 25th August. The closure is part of a programme announced by the government in January this year to close around 1 in 10 Jobcentres as well as back office centres.
Public consultations were held on only 35 offices, of which Hoylake was one, and at the beginning of July the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirmed that the overwhelming majority of the planned closures would go ahead with 750 jobs being lost in the process.
On 20th July, the day before Parliament went into recess for the summer, I called on the government during a debate on this issue to at the very least publish a timetable of the planned closures so that staff and claimants could have as much time as possible to prepare.
Instead the government has chosen to accelerate the closure programme over the summer. There was no warning that Hoylake and others would close as early as 25th August.
Last week the government also discreetly announced that the number of job losses overall had increased to at least 800, in fact so discreetly that there was no information about it at all on the DWP website.
The closure programme is to take place at just the time that the government is speeding up the roll out of the full digital service of Universal Credit which is replacing Tax Credits and a number of working age benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance.
It is hard to see how DWP can afford to lose experienced staff on such a scale when the Employment Minister admitted as recently as mid-July that it is still too early to assess what the optimum work coach caseload will be for the Universal Credit full digital service.
The government’s answer is that all claims under the full digital service are designed to be both made and managed online. It is important to remember though that some people either lack IT skills or access to the internet, another reason why Jobcentres where people can use a PC are important.
The ‘full’ digital service doesn’t quite live up to its name at present either. A report published by Citizens Advice in July highlighted that it isn’t possible to submit certain kinds of evidence or to book an appointment with a work coach online for example.
The introduction of the full service of Universal Credit in places like Newcastle appears to have led to some claimants spending long periods on the phone at a cost of up to 55p a minute in order to resolve unexpected problems with their claims.
As back office centres where those calls are answered are closed and staff numbers are reduced, the time taken to get through is only likely to increase.
In the meantime many people claiming Universal Credit are being left without income for substantial periods, especially at the start of their claim where there is already a 6 week wait built into the design of the benefit. A recent study by researchers at Oxford University for the Trussell Trust pointed to an alarming rise in the number of people turning to food banks for help in areas where the full digital service of Universal Credit is being rolled out.
The government should heed the warnings from organisations like Citizens Advice and halt both the closure programme and the roll out of Universal Credit.
It repeats like a mantra that the introduction of Universal Credit and moving into work will lift people out of poverty. To cut employment support so severely whilst failing to address the problems that Universal Credit is presenting looks increasingly reckless.