The UK has lost almost 10% of its Jobcentres amid the rollout of one of the biggest ever changes to the country’s welfare system, HuffPost UK can reveal.
Over the past five years, just as the government has introduced its controversial Universal Credit scheme, the number of Jobcentres open to the public has plummeted from 712 in 2015, to 645 at the end of 2018.
It represents a drop of 9.4% in only three years. In 2018 alone, 93 Jobcentres closed their doors for good, with just 23 new sites opening in their place.
With the rollout of Universal Credit for new claimants completed in December, as well as the government’s huge ‘managed migration’ project to transfer existing claimants looming, campaigners warn the cuts have left communities vulnerable just when they need Jobcentres the most.
As well as providing help to those applying for Universal Credit – a process that has already proven difficult for almost half a million claimants – Jobcentres also assist people in finding work.
According to Anna Stevenson, a welfare specialist at poverty charity Turn2Us, an increasing number of claimants are needing to make contact with the Jobcentre due to Universal Credit, as more people than ever before subject to work-based conditions on their benefits.
“The reduction in the number of Jobcentres at a time when demand for them is being increased because of the introduction of Universal Credit can only leave more claimants risking sanctions because they struggle to comply with their obligations, and struggling to access the resources they need to manage their claims,” Stevenson said.
It is a reality faced every day by Frank Mosson at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Bridgeton, Glasgow. His team provides guidance to local people on a range of topics, including benefits, housing, debt and work.
Last year, six of the Glasgow’s 17 Jobcentres closed their doors to claimants – a loss of more than a third.
“In the east end, we lost 75% of our Jobcentres,” Mosson explained. “There were four centres in the east end of Glasgow – Bridgeton, Easterhouse, Parkhead and Shettleston. They moved everybody into Shettleston.”
Claimants in Bridgeton must now find £4.50 for the bus fare needed to get to Shettleton, with the 2.3-mile journey requiring two buses each way.
The Citizens Advice Bureau has heard stories of people missing their Jobcentre appointments due to delays on public transport, only to be told they must return the next day – and fork out another £4.50 in tickets.
Those who can’t afford it face a 2 hour 20 minute round trip on foot, Mosson said.
(Jobcentre closures in 2018 represented on the interactive map in orange pins, openings represented with green pins.)
Mosson continued: “When these decisions are made [to close Jobcentres], they are made using a map and made as a desktop exercise. They don’t have any understanding of the actual physical environment people will have to traverse.
“We walked from Bridgeton Jobcentre to Shettleston Jobcentre – it took us just over an hour. The bad news is, it took about an hour and 20 getting back because it was uphill.
“So it has a real impact on people who are struggling.”
Glasgow MP Alison Thewliss said the government’s decision to combine four Jobcentres into one “smacked of an outstanding ignorance” of the city’s needs.
“When the UK government behaves in this way – even refusing to come to Glasgow to better understand the landscape – it reaffirms the notion that they have little compassion for people and communities negatively impacted by such moves,” the SNP MP said.
“I know countless people – many of whom are vulnerable or in poor health – who found the short journey to the local Jobcentre in Bridgeton a significant enough challenge, without the added complication of an hours walk or spending money on buses and taxis.”
By putting up “more barriers” without offering additional help, the government is risking people “falling out of the system altogether”, she added.
There are also fears that the nationwide closures will limit claimants’ access to community computers – vital services for many on Universal Credit, which, unlike other benefits, has an online application system.
HuffPost UK revealed last month that 352 computers had already been cut from Jobcentres in 2019 – in addition to the loss of 3,761 PCs from libraries since 2010.
“The computers provided at Jobcentres are vitally important for many people to be able to start and manage their Universal Credit claims,” Stevenson said.
“Though some libraries have computers available for people to use, libraries have been subject to cuts and in many areas have been closed.”
But a spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions defended cuts to the number of Jobcentres in the UK, saying more people were choosing to access their benefits online, “resulting in many of our buildings being underused”.
However, face-to-face appointments remain available to all customers, they said.
“We also support travel costs and arrange home visits to support the most vulnerable to get into and progress within work.
“Some smaller Jobcentres are merging with larger ones, and others will be co-located within local goverment premises to deliver a more efficient service and good value for the taxpayer – saving over £135 million a year for the next 10 years.”