Given that UK Government cuts to social security and new sanctions on low-paid workers are likely to increase demand for jobcentres, do Ministers agree that it is reckless and perverse of the Government to be closing them down, especially in our most deprived communities that have some of the highest rates of unemployment?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that, of course, in looking forward in time to our future needs, we plan for the expected demand on jobcentres and allow for some contingency as well. I also reassure him that the rate of sanctions has been coming down. As we are in Scottish questions, it is particularly relevant to note that the rate of sanctions in Scotland is lower than it is in the rest of the UK.
May I ask the Minister whether he and his colleagues will consider the term in which the excess fares allowance will be paid to Department for Work and Pensions staff across Scotland who are being forced to move office? The Department has refused to use its discretion to pay the EFA for five years, and will cover staff for only three years, which contrasts with previous decisions made by the Department.
We do think that we have a fair and reasonable approach to relocation. Of course we are asking some staff to move offices, and we try to do everything we can to facilitate that. Part of that is providing the excess fares policy that the hon. Gentleman mentions, which is greater in its extent than in many other organisations and we do think it is a reasonable approach.
The Minister says that there is a low level of sanctions in Scotland, but if a substantial number of jobcentres are closed will it not make journey times longer and routes more complicated, leading to an increase in missed appointments and in sanctions? What mitigating measures will he introduce to deal with an increase in sanctions?
The first thing to say is that missing or being late for an appointment does not necessarily result in a sanction. We expect people to make reasonable efforts to make it to appointments and, as I have said, the rate of sanctions has been coming down, but we expect people to have time—the entire working week—available to seek work. That involves going to job interviews and visiting the jobcentre. For an able-bodied person without children, for example, that would be up to 35 hours a week. Obviously, if a person has caring responsibilities, we expect them to have correspondingly less time available.
It is quite clear that the Minister has offered no convincing assurance about the maintenance of access to jobcentre facilities in Glasgow and across Scotland. We have seen a commitment to cut the number of jobcentres in Glasgow by six. These are areas where unemployment is twice the national average and where 35% of people cannot access IT facilities to allow them to apply online for support. There is a clear issue with the provision of a footprint and the citizens advice bureaux have offered a solution through the co-location of services in community hubs alongside citizens advice bureaux, housing associations and council services. Has the Minister given any consideration to those mitigating measures so that we can maintain the footprint or is it, as PCS has said, merely a cost-driven effort to abandon unemployed, sick and disabled people, making it harder for them to access these vital services?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important question. Of course we consider opportunities to co-locate our services with other public sector and third sector services, as he mentions. We continue to consider those opportunities. In the specific case of those jobcentres where we are moving operations more than 3 miles or 20 minutes away, we are considering new outreach facilities. I also want to mention that, of course, in the city of Glasgow the unemployment claimant count has come down by 43% since 2010.