Published in Irish Voice: 1 Feb 2017
AFTER the news last month that another 16 job-centre sites are set to close as part of more Westminster cuts, I found myself wondering what impact this would have on job seeker claimants.
UK Employment Minister, Damian Hinds, said this a good decision for the country as it would save £180 million a year for the next decade. Now that sounds like an astounding amount of money and I’m sure if it works this money will make a massive difference to the country. But, I suppose the cynic in me finds it hard to believe there isn’t a more sinister reason as to why they want to close these sites.
Funnily enough, life on benefits for the majority is a bit different than the perspective shown on channel 5 documentaries – not everybody has fancy cars and rake in £30k a year. This closure could have a major financial impact on people who need to pay the £4 on the bus there, which they wouldn’t normally have to spend. This may sound like a small sum, but for someone on Jobseekers allowance, which for a single person under 25, is just £57 a week, it is money that could be better spent on food or heating.
I don’t think the Government care about the impact it will have when they cut 8 job centres across the city, which is half of the total number of offices in the Glasgow. In Castlemilk, where I live, they are going to close the local job centre, which leaves the users no option but to travel three miles to their local service in Newlands. I can’t help but think this is just a cruel way of making it more difficult for unemployed people to get the help they need. The job centres are also well known for sanctioning people for being a few minutes late for an appointment, these closures make lateness even more likely – as people will be relying on public transport to get them to their meeting on time.
The Department Work and Pensions say it is reasonable to expect claimants to travel within three miles or 20 minutes on public transport. But, for users of this local job centre it will take double that time and over the three-mile threshold. It seems that the Government are trying to make it difficult for vulnerable people at every opportunity possible.
From somebody who has experience of accessing a job-centre, I was appalled at the level of support, or lack of, to find work. I had just completed my university course and with no graduate job I had no other option to sign on and claim job seekers allowance (JSA). I made an appointment with an advisor to be told that I had not paid enough national insurance in the last three years to be eligible for any type of JSA. I felt this was unfair, as I had still been working throughout university but mostly on zero hour contracts. The only help I was offered was to still attend the job centre every week and prove that I had been looking for work daily and in return they would pay a small contribution to my pension. Yes, you heard me right…my pension. At this point I was 21, what good would contributing to my pension do when I had to support a one-year old and help pay for food and the bills? In the end, I unwillingly accepted their offer because I was desperate to get any form of help with looking for work and interview prep. Thankfully, my partner was working at the time and he was able to support our family financially but we were still struggling to get by.
My experience of the job centre was a brief one, because I eventually found myself a job that helped us out, but what I did see for myself is that the staff have no interest in helping you find work. Instead, your 15-minute appointment is spent scrutinising your logbook and questioning whether you have spent enough time applying for jobs. The DWP are there to do everything they possibly can to make it difficult to claim benefits.
Theresa May’s Government said not enough people have face-face appointments as 90% of people apply online now for benefits and that’s the main factor in closing the offices. However, when I visited the place was absolutely full of people waiting to be seen, someone in need of their support was using every single DWP advisor’s time. It was full of a mix of people, there was people like me out of college/university with no job to go into; people who may have seasonal jobs such as landscaping and then there was the minority who you could tell had no intention of ever working. I do agree with some politician’s points, there are people who will happily live of the tax payer and abuse the welfare system – let’s be clear though, that is a small element of claimants. I think the Government should put their focus on using their staff and facilities to encourage people to actively look for work, instead of closing job centres and making it difficult to get help.
The government are frighteningly good at portraying all people on benefits as low life’s who scrounge of the tax payer. But, I hope through sharing my experience of being out of work it proves that that’s not the case. There are people out there being made redundant or may not have enough experience to get a job but who would to have a career. Instead of receiving the support they need to work they are faced with the government making it as difficult as possible to get the necessary help.
I am now working and hope that I never need to claim job seekers allowance in future but in today’s society you never know. Today’s workers could be tomorrow’s claimants and that’s why everybody should be opposed to these closures within the city’s job centres.