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Jobcentre Closures

Volume 630: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2017

1. What assessment he has made of the effect of the proposed closures of jobcentres on local communities in Scotland. (901324)

Most jobcentres are staying put. We are merging some into neighbouring offices to create bigger, multi-skilled teams, moving them into better buildings, or placing them into shared local authority space, all of which can lead to better customer service.

In Glasgow, unemployment has consistently been higher than the national average, child poverty is rising, and the use of food banks has increased by 20% in the past two years. How can Ministers justify closing so many jobcentres, which provide vital support for people struggling to access the labour market?

I can confirm that Glasgow will continue to have a considerably higher concentration of jobcentres not only than the large cities in England but compared with most other large cities in Scotland. We have redesigned the estate to make sure that we can provide well for our client base, but from bigger jobcentres. There are a number of things we can do from larger jobcentres to help unemployed people that it is not so straightforward to do from smaller ones.

Bridgeton jobcentre in my constituency will close and people will have to take two buses to get to Shettleston. Will the Minister give a commitment that not a single one of my constituents will be sanctioned for being late because they could not get there on time because of his cuts?

We expect people who are not in work to have the working week effectively available for their job-search activities, including visiting the jobcentre and, of course, applying for jobs. As I think the hon. Lady already knows, the rate of sanctions is down significantly. The vast majority of people do not get sanctioned every month, and we run a policy of having a reasonable approach. If people have a good reason for not being at an appointment, they will not be sanctioned.

The Department for Work and Pensions claims that the need for jobcentres is declining with the growth of online services, but in the constituency of Glasgow East, which has one of the highest claimant rates in Scotland, at around 35%, many do not have access to the internet and 51% are not IT literate; yet the Government are still closing three jobcentres, one of which serves three homeless shelters. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of closures on service users, many of whom rely on face-to-face interaction with jobcentre staff?

We did of course make an assessment of the effect of the changes. Where the changes would involve people having to travel more than 3 miles or 20 minutes by public transport, we had a public consultation. [Interruption.] In one case, we changed the plan in the light of the consultation, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) well knows. We think it is right to move to larger jobcentres in which we can do more. They are better equipped and have computers to ensure that that facility is there, and there are specialists in the jobcentre who can help people with the computers and get through the problems of digital exclusion that the hon. Lady mentions.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but I am afraid it is not very convincing or particularly reassuring. He knows full well that equality impact assessments have been conducted, as the Secretary of State for Scotland told me in response to my letter. The Secretary of State also said in his letter that if I wanted to access that equality information, I would have to make individual freedom of information requests for every single jobcentre. It is outrageous that the Government are covering up this vital information. They claim to value openness and transparency, but they refuse to publish information that should be freely available, no matter how much it shames them. I have in my hand an FOI request—

Order. I am sorry, but I need a single sentence and a question mark at the end of it. There is a lot of pressure on time. I apologise to the hon. Lady, but she is taking far too long. She must be very quick.

The key point is that an equality impact assessment is not just a document; it is an entire way of thinking and working and it runs throughout these processes. I can confirm that we have been absolutely compliant with our duties under the Equality Act 2010, as we should be.