I have been contacted by my constituents about the proposed Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) office closures and the related campaign from the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).
The proposals, announced in January, are to close 78 Jobcentre Plus offices in urban areas, directing claimants to offices nearby and co-locate around 50 Jobcentre Plus offices with local authorities or other community services. The DWP say they are making these proposals to reduce the size of its estate by 20% and jobcentres and other DWP centres are covered by old building contracts which are now coming up for renewal.
However, I share PCS's concern that unemployed people would have to travel further, undermining support to get them back to work. The longer and more complicated journeys to jobcentres as a result of the closures would particularly affect disabled people and people with caring responsibilities. I believe the DWP should publish a full equality impact assessment to analyse the effect of the closures on claimants and the local community.
I know many people are not confident using IT and do not have access to a computer. I am therefore concerned about the provision that will be made for claimants who have difficulty using the internet in areas where jobcentres are earmarked for closure.
I believe it is very important that we have a reliable social security system. The Government has said that these are still only a set of proposals, and that a final decision has not been made, and I will continue to urge it to think again.