On Wednesday 8th February, Frank Mosson, manager of Bridgeton Citizens Advice Bureaux gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee in Westminster on the proposed Glasgow Jobcentre closures.
Made up of 11 MPs, the Scottish Affairs Committee is a parliamentary committee whose role is to examine and scrutinise UK government policy and its impact on Scotland.
This is the first time that a Citizens Advice Bureau manager from Scotland has given evidence to a Westminster committee. Given the nature of the proposals to close half the Jobcentres in Glasgow, it was felt that a local representative would be best placed to provide information on how the closures would affect those living in those areas.
Bridgeton, Easterhouse, Parkhead and Maryhill bureaux all carried out surveys to see how the closures would impact on their clients. Together, they surveyed more than 500 people, and these figures and quotes from clients were used in this session to evidence the extra distances people would be expected to travel and how those with ill health, disabilities and caring responsibilities would be affected.
A quote from one client read: “to get to Shettleston, I’d have to catch two buses, which might mean I’m late for an appointment. I’d be scared of getting sanctioned”.
Some topics covered during the session included:
When asked about digital exclusion, Frank cited the findings from the 950 people surveyed in 2013 as part of the CAS Offline and Left Behind; 70% of those surveyed said they’d need help to fill in a benefits form online. When Bridgeton, Easterhouse and Parkhead bureaux did a survey of their clients more recently, they found that still as many as 51% would need help to make a claim online.
In terms of the reasons for this level of digital exclusion, Frank mentioned issues with skills, hardware and connectivity and sited an Ofcom survey which found that only 40% of households have Broadband. He raised concerns about digital facilities and resources being taken out of local communities if the Jobcentre closures go ahead.
Universal Credit is likely to lead to an increase in footfall for the remaining Jobcentres in the city, partly due to people being called in if they are under-employed and an increase in in-work conditionality.
“I walked the route between Bridgeton and Shettleston Jobcentre, it took me an hour and five minutes on the way – and that was on a nice dry day, which isn’t always the case in Glasgow – but on the way back it took me an hour and 15 minutes, because it is all up hill. The point being that, unless you know the terrain and the territory of the area, it is very hard to know how it will impact on real people’s lives.”
When asked whether the locations of the eight bureaux in Glasgow are more accessible than the locations of the Jobcentres, Frank answered by saying that: “Citizens Advice Bureaux are in accessible areas. Bureaux tend to be located near to Jobcentres, but it isn’t by design, we tend to both be located in areas of high deprivation.”
“Unfortunately territoriality does still exist in Glasgow and some people told us via our survey that they may not feel safe making a journey through an unfamiliar area.”
Frank made the point that the consultation process has been inadequate, and that a properly customer-focussed organisation needs to be consulting with their customers, the users of the jobcentres in question. He said: “There was no consultation until we read it in the media.”