Jobcentre Closures

Part of Committees – in the House of Commons at 9:24 pm on 5th February 2018.

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Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip 9:24 pm, 5th February 2018

I commend my hon. Friend Stewart Malcolm McDonald for having the foresight not only to secure an Adjournment debate, but to secure an Adjournment debate that allows us to detain the Minister for a certain amount of time and to rake him over the coals about this deeply flawed decision. If the Minister thinks that he is getting out of here before 10 o’clock tonight, he has another thing coming.

I commend the Minister for his promotion to this post. He will be aware that I, my colleagues on the SNP Benches, Mr Sweeney and other cross-party politicians from the city of Glasgow have written to him commending him and congratulating him on his new post, and inviting him to Glasgow. Now, I have not checked my mailbag this evening to see whether we have yet had a response to that letter. I am sure that his response will be there when I toddle over to the mail room tonight; he will be telling me that he is coming to visit the city of Glasgow in the next couple of weeks.

The main issue I want to address is the disproportionate impact of jobcentre closures on the east end of Glasgow. My hon. Friend Alison Thewliss has, in her time in this Parliament, very passionately outlined the case for retaining Bridgeton jobcentre, the doors of which closed on Friday last week. My own constituency of Glasgow East will see the closure of Easterhouse and Parkhead jobcentres over the next two weeks, with everybody being relocated to Shettleston. I will come back to that point in a moment.

Since being elected to this House in June last year, I have been clear that Ministers sit in their ivory towers in Whitehall, making decisions by spreadsheet and Google Maps. They decide what they are going to do in communities in Glasgow and in Scotland without having the foggiest idea about those communities. A visit to the Easterhouse Housing and Regeneration Alliance in December reaffirmed that for me. The Minister will have heard me mention the alliance in questions this afternoon. It is a coalition of independent housing associations that has been operating for as long as I have been alive. These associations know their tenants and their local communities. Every single director, staff member and board member of the alliance was absolutely clear that these closures will be deeply damaging for some of the most vulnerable people in the city of Glasgow.

If the Minister will not listen to the Easterhouse Housing and Regeneration Alliance, he could listen to the citizens advice bureaux in our city. There are fantastic citizens advice bureaux: in Easterhouse, led by Joan McClure; in Bridgeton, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central, led by Frank Mosson; and in Parkhead. I am sure that it is only a coincidence that the only jobcentre that the Government plan to keep open in the east end of Glasgow is not located next to a citizens advice bureau. When people are sanctioned or treated unfairly at the jobcentre in the east end of Glasgow, they can currently go to their citizens advice bureau to receive support. It is deeply damaging that we are going to remove that support.

After I was elected and met Damian Hinds, who is now the Education Secretary, I was struck that there is this idea that this campaign is party political or that it is a campaign against the Tories. If the Minister wants to believe that, that is absolutely fine. He can take it from me that, as an SNP politician, I do not have a huge amount of love for the Tories. But if he will not listen to me, will he at least listen to the three Tory councillors in the east end of Glasgow—Councillors Thomas Kerr, Phillip Charles and Robert Connelly, who is the councillor for Calton—who have all added their voice to the campaign to save our local jobcentres? If the Minister leaves this debate tonight thinking that this is some sort of Labour and SNP campaign against the Tories, he is deeply mistaken. This is a campaign to protect our jobcentres and some of the most vulnerable people in our city.

I want our jobcentres to be kept open for three reasons: digital exclusion, transport and the deep-rooted issues of the gangland culture and territorialism that, sadly, still exist in our communities. On a cross-party basis, we politicians all have to solve that. Fantastic research has been undertaken by the likes of Citizens Advice and the Church of Scotland about the real problems associated with the total exclusion of people. Something like half of my constituents have never touched a computer. Some people are able to use the internet on their smartphones, but that is not the way to do a 90-minute universal credit application. If the Minister wants to come to Glasgow and find a library that is willing to allow people to sit for 90 minutes to complete a universal credit application, he will be quite shocked to find that that is not actually the case.