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Distress Cases

Volume 481: debated on Monday 20 October 2008

10. What steps he is taking to co-ordinate the work of local jobcentres, the social fund and Jobcentre Plus to deal promptly with distress cases. (227681)

Jobcentre Plus is well placed to deal with the current period of rising unemployment. It is able to manage current volumes and has put in place plans to function effectively if numbers increase further across all benefits including the social fund. Local jobcentres will continue to give people the support they need to move from benefits and into work.

With growing numbers in a distressed situation because of joblessness, what can the Minister’s Department do to improve the service currently given to people who are being refused face-to-face interviews, are told to use a helpline that never answers or is permanently engaged, and is at best highly impersonal and unco-ordinated? How can that situation be improved?

As I have already said, we have measures in place to ensure that we are able to cope with any increased demand. I might hint that the hon. Gentleman’s experience, as he relates it, does not fit with the experiences that my constituents report to me. He has talked of times of crisis: at the moment, urgent inquiries for living expenses, when people face particular difficulties and whether or not they have recently lost their job, are processed on average in 1.7 days. I would be interested to know how he thinks that we could improve that.

The experience of my constituents certainly reflects that of the constituents of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable). The Minister will be aware that rural areas such as the Vale of York do not have jobcentres. Will she therefore ensure that those jobcentres that serve the Vale of York make themselves accessible, possibly by sending staff to meet those constituents who have no work and no transport?

We are happy to look into specific circumstances. The most important thing is the service that we provide. Jobcentre Plus has a good record in assembling the teams that are required to ensure that people receive the service they need, regardless of the surrounding circumstances. I would be happy to consider the situation in the hon. Lady’s constituency if she would like me to do so.