Closure of Glasgow JobCentres – Westminster Hall debate – 20th December 2016


Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): I am glad to be able to speak in this debate, Mr Hollobone, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) for bringing us all together.

The letter that the Minister sent to MPs said that the plans were:

“right for the city, its customers and our people”

but I see scant evidence from the people I know in Glasgow that the decision would be any of those three things. The decision seems to have been made entirely in isolation by DWP officials, without speaking to anybody else in the city. They have certainly not spoken to stakeholders in Glasgow, Glasgow City Council, which has condemned it, or the Scottish Government, who are not keen on it at all either. They have not spoken to the most important local partner in Bridgeton, Clyde Gateway, ​which has done a huge amount in the area to reduce the overt claimant count from 39% in 2009 to 28% in 2015. They know that that is due to the huge amount of work it has done in the area to improve the life chances of people in that community, but it has not been consulted. Clyde Gateway is a linchpin for the community in terms of economic regeneration, and it needs to be part of the process.

In Bridgeton, around the corner from the jobcentre, there is a citizens advice bureau, which does a huge amount of work to support constituents. The credit union is across the road. The Olympia is right there, with its newly refurbished library, which has computers and classes that help to support local constituents. The Glasgow Women’s Library, which helps vulnerable women with literacy and to improve their self-esteem, is around the corner.

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that another vulnerable group that we must take into account is disabled people? It is absolutely disgraceful that people with disability will have much further to travel to find jobs. Has any impact assessment been conducted in that regard? The Government have pledged to halve the disability employment gap; surely these plans undermine that policy.

Alison Thewliss: I absolutely agree: the plans entirely undermine that ambition. Bridgeton CAB has been collecting evidence for the public consultation—my area is one of the few that will be consulted on—and it is very concerned that people accessing disability advisers will have much further to travel and that it will be much harder for them to get there.

To touch on transport, the Minister has stated that it takes 11 minutes by car to get from Bridgeton to Shettleston, but that entirely ignores the fact that nearly two-thirds of households in the most deprived communities of Glasgow do not have access to a car, so they will need to get two buses. The Minister reckoned that it would take people 29 minutes to get there, but the two buses do not arrive in a neat 29-minute slot; one arrives much more regularly than the other. People trying to get there who have children to drop off at nursery or to pick up from school will find it more difficult to fit that into their day.

The consultation that Bridgeton CAB has done this morning highlighted that the time, date and frequency of appointments can be changed. The bus that someone got last week that worked out okay may not be the one they get this week, because the appointment time has changed. That adds a great deal of uncertainty and stress to the situation, because people are faced with the prospect of being sanctioned for being late. That is a huge fear for people. My experience in my constituency office—this is also the experience of the citizens advice bureau and other agencies in Glasgow—is that people are afraid to challenge even the first sanction. They do not want to get into conflict with people from the jobcentre, so they are not challenging the sanction. They think that they will be able to ride it out, but then something else happens at another time and they end up losing their benefits for even longer, which has a huge impact on their family income.

The fact that people have very limited means also means that they will be walking from one jobcentre to the other. It could take nearly 50 minutes to go from ​Bridgeton jobcentre to the Shettleston jobcentre. That has another impact. People are not walking from one jobcentre to another. That brings me on to my next point. We need to see in the consultation the catchment areas for the different jobcentres. People might be walking from Calton to Shettleston, or Dalmarnock to Shettleston. They could be going any distance to get there. We do not know what the distance will be. We do not have a full idea of what the actual impact on our communities will be without that information.

That is in huge contrast to the types of consultations that Glasgow City Council puts out for its schools. If it wants to close a school or move it somewhere else, the council puts out a map showing where each school pupil lives, or where the people travelling to the new school and new catchment area live, which makes the impact of changes on individuals very clear. We have not had that information at all.

The consultation process has a particular weakness. The Minister has told us that posters and leaflets will go out in the jobcentres, but the Department holds all the details of every single claimant. It could do a whole lot more to contact every claimant and ask them what the impact on each individual will be. I urge the Minister to do that and to come to Glasgow when he is in Scotland, so that he can come on the bus with us to see what the journey is actually like.