Clare spoke on the impact of inequalities on people’s health, and how the UK government has made inequalities worse for ordinary people. Full transcript below
I, too, thank Bob Doris for securing the debate, and I thank him and the members who signed the motion for affording us the opportunity to debate the issue.
Jobcentres play an important role in supporting people who are seeking work. They are also an important point of contact for local businesses that are looking to recruit and for local and national initiatives that seek to support people into work, as well as encouraging growth and opportunity for all. It is widely accepted that having meaningful employment in a fair work environment that pays a living wage has a positive impact on health and wellbeing.
Yesterday in the chamber, we debated a Conservative motion on health inequalities. Nothing demonstrates the glaring divergence from the Tories’ sham concern about health inequality more than the UK Government’s actions on welfare and benefits. The outrageous decision to close half the jobcentres in the Glasgow region, including the Cambuslang jobcentre in my constituency, is just another example of the disregard that the Tories show to the vulnerable in our society.
As we have heard, the announcement was made without prior consultation. There was no consultation with elected members, local communities, service users or DWP unions or employees. Following answers in the House of Commons to questions from Margaret Ferrier MP and Angus Robertson MP, it became clear that the Tory Secretary of State for Scotland was also kept in the dark on what the DWP was up to.
I grew up in Rutherglen, in my constituency, and I have been fortunate enough to work in my constituency. I have seen Rutherglen and Glasgow suffer from heavy levels of joblessness as traditional industry collapsed in Scotland in the 1980s. The transition from the industrial past has been tough on constituencies such as mine. Manufacturing jobs, which numbered in the thousands only a few decades ago and guaranteed jobs for people in Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Blantyre, now number in the hundreds. That story is familiar to many communities across Scotland, but it is especially relevant in Glasgow, where joblessness, lower incomes and historical underinvestment in public services have come together to contribute to high unemployment levels and high underemployment levels.
To cut 20 per cent of jobcentres in Scotland in the current climate—with the plummeting pound, uncertainty on access to markets and potential tariffs on Scotland-made goods—would be bad enough, but to close half the jobcentres in the Glasgow region smacks of an overreach that is reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax, which has already been referred to. It is just another example of the Westminster Tories’ disregard for Scotland and especially for the unemployed and underemployed in our communities.
If Glasgow’s jobless can be hammered with no resistance, with nearly 70,000 people affected, the Conservative Government will be emboldened to roll out further cuts to essential services. That is at the heart of the matter; it is not just about jobcentre closures but about a sustained campaign of defunding all public services and transferring provision, when it is profitable, to the private sector. This is happening while Glasgow has a 7.7 per cent unemployment rate, which is 2.3 per cent higher than the UK average.
The jobcentres are not round the corner from each other; they are services that are located in distinct local communities that have specific catchment areas. For example, in the area of Halfway in Cambuslang, the walk to the nearest jobcentre will increase from 30 minutes to more than an hour. That is what the jobcentre closures completely disregard—the local impact on communities and the people who are caught up in the situation.
DWP staff are being advised not to process appeals, and sanctions are a real and present threat to ordinary people. The hour-long walk from Halfway suddenly seems more stressful when being five minutes late could have a devastating impact on the benefits that are received. At best, decreasing access will result in more stress for people who are in a vulnerable position, but at worst, it will result in hunger and homelessness. In fact, given the planned closures, the DWP should be loosening the sanctions regime to ensure that people who are moving to a different jobcentre are not punished for having difficulty in getting to their appointments on time.
We should be maintaining the services that we already have. In areas of greater need, we should be looking at how to develop services, not cutting them. As my colleague Bob Doris highlighted in his motion, we need a social security system with
“dignity and respect at its heart”, not one that imposes such closures on the most vulnerable in our society.