Allied article from today's Guardian ... some readers and their carees do have to attend their local ( Non ) job centre : ... erhand-cut

Shutting down jobcentres is the austerity era’s most underhand cut yet.

Protests about one north London closure are just a drop in the ocean. One in 10 jobcentres will be cut over the next year, in a £40bn ‘efficiency saving’.

With no funding and only a few placards, a group of sick, disabled, and unemployed campaigners is about to take on a giant government department – and with it, perhaps the austerity era’s most underhand cut yet. You can find Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group (KUWG) in north-west London, but theirs is a story that could easily be repeated anywhere, from Derby to Glasgow to Bristol. In four months’ time, Kilburn’s jobcentre is due to shut its doors as part of a nationwide overhaul by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

While telling struggling families that finding work is the solution to their problems, the Conservatives are about to trigger a mass exodus of jobcentres from the high street. In October, the government confirmed plans to close a total of 87 jobcentres across the UK over the next seven months.

Fifteen shut their doors in August and September. Five will close in Glasgow alone. By this time next year, more than one in 10 jobcentres around the UK will have been axed.

For a Conservative minister in Westminster, that may seem barely an inconvenience. But anyone who has ever had a spell of bad luck with employment knows that having to find bus fare to get to the jobcentre can lead to anxiety and skipping meals.

I speak to CJ, one of the founding members of KUWG, five days ahead of their planned demonstration outside the DWP headquarters, in central London. The 58-year-old is on out-of-work sickness benefits himself – he’s currently on the waiting list for a spinal operation – but when he was well enough to look for work, Kilburn was his local jobcentre.

CJ knows first hand that when you’re on a subsistence income or battling health problems, having to get yourself across the city to sign on or do a job search is, in his words, just an extra burden: “the people who are on the dole have got enough problems.”

Not only is Kilburn’s jobcentre due to close in the next few months, but so is the neighbouring one in Neasden. This will mean Kilburn residents will be expected to transfer to Wembley – almost 7 miles away – and others to Kentish Town. The DWP tells me that if a person would like to use a jobcentre other than these two “they can request to do so”, and that it expects jobseekers to travel up to 90 minutes when looking for work.

“Say you had to get to the jobcentre at 9.30am. How much will that cost on a bus? Or if you can’t walk well?” CJ asks. “I don’t know how you do it.”

The DWP says “vulnerable people” will continue to receive home visits and postal claims “where it is appropriate to do so” but anyone who’s ever set foot in a jobcentre knows sickness rarely gets an exemption. CJ keeps coming back to the thought of these residents being sent miles to another jobcentre. “These are people on painkillers. Walking around on crutches. Or who are confused with brain fog or who have depression,” he says. “It’s disgusting.”

Indeed, think too long about the rationale of shutting jobcentres down at a time of economic uncertainty and austerity, and you could be convinced there was an element of sadism to all this. Successive Conservative governments bring in tighter rules that require benefits claimants to increasingly attend a jobcentre – from low-wage, universal credit workers forced to look for more hours to jobseekers told to sign in daily – and then cut the number of jobcentres they can get to. As CJ puts it to me: “You’ll turn up late or not be able to get there [because they’ve shut your local jobcentre] and then you’ll get sanctioned.”

Ask the DWP and it states that some smaller jobcentres will merge with larger ones, while others will be “co-located” – essentially slotted into an existing council building or local library (if indeed, the local library hasn’t also been closed). This is a billion-pound cut draped in the language of “efficiency”: the jobcentre closures will see the government slice £140m a year from the DWP budget over the next decade.

In more than one way, KUWG is a snapshot of why this “cost-saving” policy matters. The group was formed in 2009, at the height of the recession: a temporary local safety net to help jobseekers at a time the welfare state was still intact.

Eight years later, they are serving the community at the sharp end of austerity measures; from helping disabled people fill in the lengthy forms for out-of-work sickness benefits to physically attending jobcentre meetings with jobseekers who are afraid they will get their income stopped.

KUWG say they are routinely contacted by people who have been kicked off sickness benefits and sent to the jobcentre despite having a doctor’s note – or to put it another way, who have already been victim of another DWP “efficiency saving”. Then imagine how much harder it gets to navigate that system when your town centre doesn’t even have a jobcentre adviser for you to talk to.

The trend, as these jobcentre closures take hold nationwide, is to increasingly shift welfare support from face-to face human contact to a computer screen. Universal credit applications – famed for its frantic helplines – are designed to be made online but in reality, this means the very people most in need of social security will be least likely to access it. Around one in 10 UK adults have never used the internet, according to the latest figures by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). That rises to two in 10 for disabled adults.

Over the last five years, towns and cities across Britain have watched their local welfare advice and legal centres shut their doors as government funding was gutted. Now, local jobcentres are being lined up as the next to go.

The slogan for KUWG’s demo on Monday – “Hands off our jobcentre” – may be about one centre but really, it’s a rallying cry for communities everywhere. As CJ puts it to me: “We know this is happening over the country. We want to be a lightning rod.”


Perhaps the DWP are now concerned over the fitness of some of their visitors ?

Who knows ... some will have more problems ... especially our fellow carers having to pay to use public transport when accompaning their caree ... in percentage terms , somewhat frightening additional expenditure !