On the 18th January 2017 I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the subject of the future of the DWP estate. We were debating the DWP’s devastating plans to close Jobcentres across Glasgow. These proposals must be halted if the UK Government is not to punish those trying their best to look for work.
Here’s what I had to say:
“I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) on bringing this subject to this place again. As the MP who represents Glasgow North East, which has the 16th highest unemployment rate in the UK—at 5.9%, it is 2.5 times the UK average—I couldn’t not be here.
I have used my personal experience in this place on previous occasions. I have spoken about my own experience of being unemployed and how I was treated and how I responded. When I have spoken about it, it has elicited empathy from Members of all parties, with everyone agreeing that I did not deserve to be treated in that way, but I am aware that many here will think that what I speak of is my experience alone and that I am different, but I am not. When I have talked about the pain of being unable to find work and desperately wanting it, people have said to me, “But you are probably the exception to the rule”, but I am not. When I talked about being treated like a child by some—though not all—jobcentre staff and about that having the reverse effect in terms of getting me into employment, I was told that that was a one-off, but it was not. I am no different from any of my constituents. I have family, friends and constituents who all wanted to work, worked hard to find work and needed help, not punishment. I am saying this because I am coming to a suggestion as to what we can do with these jobcentres.
The small minority who do not put effort into finding work are those who need the most support. It is more often than not a deep lack of self-confidence that stops them, as has been said previously. We need to support, encourage and empower them, not criticise, ridicule and punish them by cruel sanctions and by making it far harder to get to the jobcentre.
Here is my suggestion for using the excess space that we have heard about within the earmarked jobcentres. The DWP work services director for Scotland, Denise Horsfall, said earlier this week:
“In Glasgow the buildings are between 20% and 40% under occupied. When you go in you will see a floor fully occupied but there are floors above which are empty”, so why not use that space to provide room where people can utilise services that will actually assist them to gain employment?
I am thinking of the difficulty I once had when I had no printer and I was required to print 20, sometimes more, CVs: a total of 60 pages at a cost of 10p a photocopy every week. That was £6 that I honestly could not afford, so I asked the jobcentre staff if they would print them for me. The answer I got was—I paraphrase, but this is the sense of it: “Don’t be ridiculous. We can’t do that sort of thing here.”
I am thinking of the times when I could not afford credit for my phone, but I needed to make phone calls about employment opportunities. I wanted to be proactive.
Why not use the space that is said to be leading to jobcentre closures, and provide office equipment and anything that people need for support in their search for work?
Why not provide space for people to come together and support each other, build their confidence and get advice when they want and need it?
The Minister will say that that happens already, but it honestly does not. There are areas of good practice, and we have heard about some of them today, but on the whole the DWP’s approach is completely wrong.
Many years ago as a young graduate I was offered the opportunity to attend a group that was for some reason called the executive job club. It was not compulsory, so I did not feel like a naughty schoolchild in detention. It was respectful: the group co-ordinators made it clear that they believed everyone would work, given the opportunity, so none of us felt as if we were being judged. Peer support was encouraged, which meant that we spent time with people who were also struggling to find work, and felt useful because we could advise each other. One-to-one coaching, group sessions, pair work and drop-in were available; and it was all voluntary. It was therefore well attended, and the atmosphere was supportive and respectful. The turnover was high, because most of us got jobs. For me it removed a huge blockage. I was there only a few weeks, but it had a big impact on me. It changed the way I viewed myself and my professional skills. It gave me confidence and got me into a well-paid, challenging job, which put me on the path to a fairly successful career. The Government could learn from that and from other groups, including the numerous unemployed workers centres around the country.
I am suggesting that there is something missing in the experience of a person who is unemployed. Without any facetiousness I want to say that I would be happy to meet the Minister to talk some more about what I have outlined. Now that we have the space in the jobcentres in Glasgow, why, instead of closing them down, do we not consider using that space to provide the sort of services I have described? It would require more resources, but if it works it is surely worth it.
To hear the full debate click here