photo by Kim Aukle
Peter Murry (Trade Union Liaison Officer for Brent and London Green Parties), spoke at a panel at a Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group meeting on 24/10/2015 on job centre closures, as part of a panel with Giselle Winstone (Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group and Chair of Unite Community Brent), John Kilvington (Advice Worker with the Somali Cultural Centre),Ariane and Donna from WinVisible , and Pete Firmin (Brent Trades Council). Chair: Robin Sivapalan
Some points covered included:
There was a nationwide programme of proposed job centre closures which threatens about 78 j.c.’s, the DWP (Department for Work & Pensions), has just released details of its proposals at https://www.gov.uk/
Many at the meeting seemed sure that Kilburn and Neasden j.c.’s were planned to be closed, also the PCS (Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents many j.c.workers), has reported that “compulsory redundancies are highly likely, at (…) Wembley,…”.
PCS is opposing the job centre closures. and actions include an indefinite strike at Sheffield Eastern Avenue j.c.
Speakers made the point that closing j.c.’s will make it hardest for the very people who need their services most to access support, because of longer journeys, which could entail greater chances of missing appointments and being penalised for doing so. Groups most affected will include disabled people, and many speakers of languages other than English, especially if problems of literacy were also involved.
Many believe that the closures are part of a deliberate strategy as part of civil service reform to get more people using services online .Most of vulnerable don’t have access to IT services and even where they do it’s recognised that a large number of people lack basic digital skills: “According to the Office for National Statistics around 5.3 million Britons have never used the internet with the Government stating that more than 10 million adults in England lack the basic digital skills they need.” (See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/uk-digital-skills-deficit-company-productivity-bcc-workforce-training-staff-workers-employees-a7670371.html)
This is part of a wider government austerity strategy which is also impacting on other areas such Health, Community Care and Education, and in the case of j.c.’s, “decisions driven by DWP departmental savings targets rather than rational review of need of users”, according to a PCS briefing. PCS also argues that the closures are being pushed through on the basis of flawed public consultations and without a detailed equality impact assessment.
In the case of Kilburn and Neasden, the land and buildings were already owned by private companies and that this may be being used as a pretext for closure, although it was not thought that the owners were demanding the land or buildings. Rumours of plans to build luxury flats and a free school were mentioned.
It was noted that while public assets and services were being closed and sold off, often to private profit making concerns, there was ample scope for cutting back government expenditure in areas such Trident, subsidising air travel, nuclear power etc.
J.c.’s were quite likely to be more necessary than before as Brexit led to economic disruption and economic changes such as increasing automation and moves towards a lower carbon economy began to happen. Not only were the centres being made less accessible but the skills and knowledge of their staff in areas such as job retraining could be lost through redundancies.
Possible grounds for legal challenges to the closures were discussed including on the grounds of the equality impact assessment, but this was not seen as the sole means of opposition. Leafleting campaigns outside j.c.’s and to the general public were suggested and possibly a small photo op style protest by KUWG outside DWP, Caxton House Nov 6 3-4 pm.
A model motion to Councillors mainly about Universal Credit but including opposition to j.c. closures was discussed and amended, (to be circulated).More info re Universal Credit see https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/24/jobless-poleaxed-universal-credit-workers-low-income-financial-penalties.
Tulip Siddiq MP sent message of support, Dawn Butler MP, Siân Berry & Caroline Russell Green Party Members of the London Assembly, Councillor Sharma (Brent Council)
PCS speakers invited, but no response.
Peter Murry wishes to thank PCS for the info they made available, nb: link to main demands: https://www.pcs.org.uk/department-for-work-and-pensions/news/dwp-reps-agree-to-campaign-to-defend-offices-jobs-and-services