The UK government’s plans to close half of Glasgow’s Job Centres are deeply flawed – and the campaign against them is gathering momentum.
To quickly recap, there are currently 16 Job Centres in the city, and last month – without any prior warning – the DWP unveiled plans to shut 8 of them.
This would affect communities the length and breadth of the city, from Anniesland to Easterhouse, to Castlemillk and Langside, as well as Cambuslang next door in South Lanarkshire.
The plans are currently subject to a public consultation although, strangely, the DWP is only actually formally consulting on the closure of three out of the eight Job Centres facing the axe – those at Bridgeton, Castlemilk and Maryhill.
However, straight away alarm bells should be ringing.
Let’s remember that Glasgow currently has one of the highest unemployment rates in Scotland – so making it harder to access employment support is the last thing the UK Government should be doing.
And as everyone knows, Job Centres are – despite their title – more than just a place to look for a job. They’re used to find out about adult learning and skills opportunities, as well as issues about benefits and social security.
The media has been full of very distressing stories of ill and disabled people unable to make Job Centre appointments and having their benefits sanctioned as a result – demanding they travel further for their appointments risks making this problem worse.
Attempts from the Tories to defend these plans have been far from convincing to say the least.
Last week Scottish Secretary David Mundell told the House of Commons that the UK government’s intention was that there would be no change to the level of service offered to the people of our city.
Given that the Tories can’t even say how many people will be affected by these closures – and they haven’t even bothered to do an assessment – that’s a pretty hollow statement to make.
Nor does it seem to have occurred to them that people traveling to Job Centres seeking work or employment support are almost always doing so on low incomes.
The DWP has suggested that rather than attend a Job Centre, claimants could contact them by telephone instead.
That argument might have a bit more credibility were it not for the fact that claimants would be forced to use very expensive 0345 numbers every time they need to speak to an advisor about their claim. Calls to pursue your JSA or ESA claims, for example, can cost up to 45p a minute if you’re forced to call from a mobile.
The SNP has been making clear our strong opposition to these closure plans.
Employment Minister Jamie Hepburn met his UK counterpart Damian Hinds last week – and suggested he meet with some of the people who will be affected by these closures.
And the SNP led debates in both the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament last week to lay out in detail the flaws in these proposals.
In addition, Glasgow’s politicians, spearheaded by the SNP, have joined together to mount a cross-party campaign.
My SNP colleague Stewart McDonald MP has sent a letter to Scottish Secretary David Mundell asking him to back the campaign to keep the Job Centres open.
The letter was signed by all of Glasgow’s SNP MSPs and MPs, the four Labour MSPs, the Greens’ Patrick Harvie as well as Glasgow City Council Leader Frank McAveety and SNP opposition leader Susan Aitken.
The only MSPs not to sign the letter were the two Glasgow Tories – Adam Tomkins and Annie Wells.
As things stand, David Mundell has failed to speak out against these closures and has offered little more than warm words.
If the Scottish Secretary is not there to stand up for Scottish interests in the UK Cabinet on issues as important as this, then frankly you really have to wonder what the point is in there being a Scottish Secretary.
There is also a wider issue here about the way Glasgow is being used as a guinea pig by the UK government.
Glasgow is so far the only place in the UK where Job Centre closures have been announced.
And although the DWP have said they plan to reduce the estate across the UK by 20 per cent – the proposed cut in Glasgow is far higher than that at 50 per cent.
It is completely unacceptable for our city to be treated in this way – and the incredibly flawed consultation process only adds insult to injury.
There is absolutely no case for shutting these Job Centres – and the Tory government needs to hear this message loud and clear.
There is still time to respond to the DWP’s consultation before it finishes on 31 January.
I would urge everyone reading this to add their voice to the growing campaign to ensure these wrong-headed closures are stopped in their tracks.
This article originally appeared in the Evening Times.