The government is planning to close more than one in 10 jobcentres around the UK, with the loss of up to 750 jobs.
The Department for Work and Pensions would not say how many of the 714 offices would close, but unions said it was more than one in 10 locations in England, Wales and Scotland.
Damian Hinds, the minister for employment, said the closures would better reflect today’s welfare state as people increasingly claim benefits online.
“The way the world works has changed rapidly in the last 20 years and the welfare state needs to keep pace,” he said. “As more people access their benefits through the internet many of our buildings are underused. We are concentrating our resources on what we know best helps people into work.”
The DWP said 78 small Jobcentre Plus offices would be merged with larger ones nearby, with a further 50 to be “co-located” with local authorities or other community services.
It will also close 27 back-office buildings around the country and develop larger processing sites, including five new large service centres from 2018.
The Public and Commercial Services union said it would oppose the plans. Mark Serwotka, general secretary said: “Jobcentres provide a lifeline for unemployed people, and forcing them to travel further is not only unfair it undermines support to get them back to work.
“We are opposed to these closures and will vigorously fight any attempt to force DWP workers out of their jobs.”
The DWP said up to 750 jobs would go although the vast majority of staff would have the option to relocate or take on other roles.
Frank Field, chair of the Commons work and pensions select committee and Labour MP for Birkenhead, said he was shocked by the closures.
“The DWP is cutting off its nose to spite its face, it seems to me,” he said. “It’s true that unemployment has been falling, but jobcentres have been given new tasks under universal Credit to help people find work.
“The centres are supposed to have worker coaches who can find people a job and advisers to help them get higher pay. It means that staff will need to understand the jobs market over a wider area, jeopardising their ability to achieve their targets.”
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