Response to Consultation on Eastern Avenue Jobcentre

Below is the submission I made to the Government's consultation on the proposed closure of the Eastern Avenue Jobcentre Plus. The consultation is now closed, and now the Minister will consider submissions. In the meantime, please consider signing my petition against the proposed closure.


 

Do you agree with the proposals? What overall comments would you like to make on the proposals?

I oppose the decision to close Eastern Avenue, Sheffield Jobcentre on the basis of accessibility, capacity, impact on a deprived community and inadequate departmental analysis & assessment of the impact itself.

The process by which these proposals have been announced do not stand alone from the decision itself. The initial decision has been made without conducting an impact assessment and without a clear picture of those individual claimants or future claimants whom it is likely to affect. This includes extremely vulnerable claimants including those with disabilities and those who are digitally excluded.

It is, in my view, unacceptable to ask me to represent my constituents by responding to this consultation without an accompanying analysis of whom it will impact upon and without a statutory equality impact assessment accompanying the initial proposal. It is for this reason that I have raised in the House of Commons and do so again here the need for: the full publication of an equality impact assessment; analysis of costs saved; the number of Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support claimants that will be affected by the proposed closure; the plans for outreach in relation to what will replace this jobcentre after its closure; the necessary spend on increased capacity at the alternative centre; or projections of footfall at the centre destined for closure.

The short consultation period and the withholding of important information which would enable individuals and representatives to build an accurate picture of the likely impact is, in my view, an inappropriate way to engage on a decision affecting some of my most vulnerable constituents.

Impact on a deprived community

Eastern Avenue Job Centre Eastern Avenue Jobcentre serves claimants from postcodes S12 1, S12 2, S12 3, S2 1, S2 2, S2 3.

The eight wards which Eastern Avenue Jobcentre serves are in areas with a high level of deprivation. It serves Arbourthorne and parts of the Manor Castle area of Sheffield which is the most deprived area of Sheffield with 74% of the people living in the area amongst the top 10% of most deprived in the country. In Arbourthorne 64% of people are amongst the top 10% most deprived in the country.

Seven of the eight wards have a higher than average number of people claiming out of work benefits. Five of the wards are higher than Sheffield average for out of work benefits.

Arbourthorne and Manor Castle wards are also subject to a number of other difficulties including educational attainment.  Arbourthorne is the second lowest ward for educational attainment rate in 4/5 year olds and low rates of educational attainment at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 and low rates of year 11 (age 15/16) children staying in learning.

The area also has significantly high rates of teenage pregnancies and high prevalence estimates for common mental, depressive episode, generalised anxiety and mixed anxiety disorders and significantly high referral rates to Mental Health inpatient specialties for adults aged 16-54 years.

These social characteristics render ready access to training and easy accessibility to the venue key considerations. It is also in clear contrast to the stated government intention that deprived areas would be protected from the closure programme.

Accessibility

Travel time & length: The proposed relocation is outside of Departmental guidelines for travel time. A consultation was required at Eastern Avenue, Sheffield due to the journey time between the centre itself and the proposed relocation at Cavendish Court, Sheffield. The departmental analysis suggested that this relocation would lead to a twenty four minute journey from job centre to job centre, four minutes over a self-imposed departmental limit.

However, on closer analysis it is clear that travel time will lead to significantly higher transit times for the public than stated in the consultation document. An indicative travel report produced by a claimant at Eastern Avenue Job Centre is reproduced below:

Jobcentre_Times.png

As is clear on no single occasion did the claimant arrive at the proposed relocated Jobcentre within the twenty minute transit time or the twenty four minute transit time detailed in the departmental analysis. On one occasion it was over double the transit time identified by the Departmental analysis. The practical reality of travel time between Jobcentres clearly indicates that the Department has significantly underestimated the time taken and the impact on claimants.

Given the wards served by Eastern Avenue Jobcentre constitute a higher proportion of single parents than the national average and a higher proportion of ESA claimants with mental health difficulties, travel often means being accompanied by dependents or support workers. This is why accessibility is of crucial importance in serving deprived communities.

Furthermore, the method used to calculate travel time does not accurately assess impact on claimants as it calculates travel time from one Jobcentre to another rather than from areas served by the Jobcentre.

The proposed closure of Eastern Avenue Jobcentre and the movement of appointments to Cavendish Court Jobcentre would increase the travel time for claimants within many covered areas. See examples below.

Travel example from S20:

Ox Hill S20 4SX to Eastern Avenue Jobcentre at midday on 13/2/17 - 31 minutes (6 miles)

Ox Hill S20 4SX to Cavendish Court Jobcentre at midday on 13/2/17 - 1hr and 7 minutes (9.3 miles)

Travel example from S12

Thornebridge Close S12 3AD to Eastern Avenue Jobcentre at midday on 21/2/17 - 25 minutes (2.1 miles)

Thornebridge Close S12 3AD to Cavendish Court Jobcentre at midday on 21/2/17 - 42 minutes (6.8 miles)

Data from Travel South Yorkshire website

I have serious reservations about the method used to calculate travel time and believe it does not paint an accurate picture of the impact on claimants. Accessibility will be seriously impacted by the proposals and it will be those in the most deprived communities some distance from the current Jobcentre who will be asked to travel yet further to attend training and job searching required of them. From some areas such as the 4SX example two detailed above, it could mean a round trip of 2hrs and 14 minutes, without taking into account a meeting.

Impact on claimants

For those on Employment and Support Allowance, this distance will present a considerable problem. It is misleading to state “those claiming ESA and Income Support are not generally required to attend their local Jobcentre regularly”. A high proportion of ESA and IS claimants attend regular interviews and although these are not as frequent as for current UC and JSA claimants, they are likely to have additional considerations that the extra travel distance would impact on, including caring responsibilities and disabilities.

I would like to have a commitment from the Government that those needs will be considered as part of the Equality Impact Assessment and that alternatives will be considered to enable accessibility for those on ESA. Further, it is deeply regrettable that no figures have yet been produced for the number of claimants on ESA served by Eastern Avenue.

Furthermore the DWP has committed to helping “vulnerable” claimants through face to face “AJCS” appointments (bookable either through a Benefit Centre and by those attending the office). Many of these claimants claim IS or ESA, as well as other DWP benefits including UC, JSA, Social Fund, Bereavement Benefits, Maternity Allowance, Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, Pensions, Carer’s Allowance and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit etc. Many travelling for AJCS appointments will be required to travel further at extra cost.

Eastern Avenue also provides screened appointments and group sessions for claimants from Woodhouse.  Presumably these claimants would now have to travel to Cavendish Court at an even longer travel time than those normally serviced by Eastern Avenue but again, this information has not been made publicly available.

Further, I have asked if the DWP would consider reimbursing those who attend the relocated Jobcentre to use DWP personal computers to access Universal Jobmatch (and other sites) for job search purposes; the Minister confirmed that they would not be reimbursed. This means that DWP will be denying support to those looking for work if the proposal goes ahead. It is important that this nonsensical decision is reversed.

Capacity issues and safety concerns

There is a clear risk of overcrowding at Cavendish Court, Sheffield resulting from the effective merging of Jobcentres serving substantial numbers of claimants into one building, without the commensurate increase in size or capacity. While it is difficult to establish the exact figures due to inadequate departmental analysis, I have detailed estimates below from colleagues at the public services union, PCS of the numbers processed at Eastern Avenue:

Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) – 1200 (December 2016)

Universal Credit (UC) – 400 (December 2016)

As well as understanding Eastern Avenue Jobcentre, it is also important to have a picture of the proposed Jobcentre where all claimant facing staff and claimants are to be moved. Cavendish Court is based in Sheffield city centre on Bank Street:

JSA – 2,245 (December 2016)

UC – 1,223 (December 2016)

Additionally at Cavendish Court Jobcentre, claimants are invited to attend various group sessions in two separate rooms. There is a limited face to face benefit service especially aimed at vulnerable claimants. There are also a large number of personal computers for claimants to use the internet for job searching and for making new claims to benefit.

Other DWP interviews also take place at Cavendish Court:

National Insurance Number interviews per week: 150-200 (for attendees from between Nottingham and Barnsley). These interviews often involve additional attendees as customers often bring interpreters or family.

Compliance interviews: approximately 25 per week (this would be in addition to the 17 per week currently held at Eastern Avenue).

There is a risk of overcrowding in Cavendish Court Jobcentre if all claimants from Eastern Avenue Jobcentre are relocated to Cavendish Court. While Cavendish Court has previously supported a higher JSA register than the combined UC and JSA register in the new proposal, there are now an increasing number of interventions by Work Coaches that will lead to significantly higher footfall in the site.  In addition, with the rollout of UC I would anticipate that footfall would increase at a Jobcentre such as Eastern Avenue.

The entrance, exit and waiting areas at Cavendish Court were redesigned based on falling claimant numbers and may not be able to cope with the increased numbers without investment. There are areas of the office which have been left unusable after incomplete estates work which limits the capacity of the site. It is unacceptable that the DWP have not done any analysis of the suitability of Cavendish Court before making the announcement regarding the proposal to close Eastern Avenue, Sheffield Jobcentre. We are not aware of the budget for building work to allow Cavendish Court to be able to cope with the additional footfall, however, the Regional Manager informed me that money would have to be spent on the centre in order to accommodate the additional claimants.  However, again, we have no figures on the amount saved by closing Eastern Avenue or being spent on Cavendish Court in order to ascertain whether this is a true saving.

Further, the DWP measure footfall as the claimant themselves, but take no consideration of who they bring with them. Eastern Avenue serves a higher number of single-parent families and it’s not unusual for claimants to come to the centre with several of their children – particularly in school holidays.  It seems no assessment has been made of this and the impact of serving a unique community with its own demographic profile.

Please provide any additional comments that you have:

The lack of information provided by the Department leaves it almost impossible to build an accurate picture of the closure and therefore the impact of the closures. The Department should publish all this information long before the decision is made, information which is required to decide whether this decision is in the public interest. This includes but is not limited to an analysis of costs saved; an Equality Impact Assessment; the number of Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support claimants that will be affected by the proposed closure; the plans for outreach in relation to what will replace this jobcentre after its closure; the necessary spend on increased capacity at the alternative centre; or projections of footfall at the centre destined for closure.

The announcement based on incomplete and vague detail renders this consultation a sham. Without an accurate picture it is impossible to consult stakeholders on any likely picture.

Finally, as part of the ongoing discussions between Govt. and Sheffield City Council the Council is piloting, with the DWP, a range of interventions regarding health and getting people into work.  The decision about the Jobcentre has taken place in isolation to that which could jeopardise a range of support services which the Council are delivering.

The Department must pause, release all available information and then resume the consultation process for each of the proposed Jobcentre closures.