Hundreds would be affected by Sheffield Jobcentre closure, warn protesters
Closing a Jobcentre in one of Sheffield's most deprived neighbourhoods would hit hundreds of job-seekers, protesters have warned.
The Jobcentre in Eastern Avenue, Manor Top, is one of 78 across the country earmarked for closure by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) to cut costs.
Under the proposals, it would be merged with two existing Jobcentres in the city, at Cavendish Court, approximately three miles away, and Bailey Court, 3.6 miles away.
Campaigners battling to save the Jobcentre, which they say is used by more than 1,100 claimants a week, staged a protest outside on Thursday morning.
They warned claimants would struggle to access other centres, meaning they could lose out on benefits or find it harder to access support to get back into work.
Antony May is among the claimants who would be affected.
The 42-year-old, of Arbourthorne, has been out of work for 10 years due to mental health problems, but is looking to get back into employment.
"I'm fighting my way back into work and this is my stepping stone towards that," he said.
"It's going to cost me Â£4 a day in bus fares to visit an advisor at one of the other Jobcentres, which is money I can't afford.
"They say it's only a 24 minute bus journey away but with the way buses are around here it's going to be difficult for people to make 9am appointments, especially if they have to drop their children off at school. If they miss those appointments they will be sanctioned."
Weekly income support is Â£57.90 for individuals aged 24 and under, and Â£73.10 for those aged 25 and above.
Alistair Tice, of the union Unison Community, said: "Closing this Jobcentre would have a massive impact on people living in this area, which is among the most deprived in the city and is home to a large number of disabled people.
"It could mean they're paying Â£10 a week on bus fares out of benefits that aren't enough as it is.
"It will also affect the local area because there will be fewer people using the library to do their CVs and job searches, and fewer visitors to the post office and shops, many of which have already closed."
The Government is currently consulting about plans to close the Eastern Avenue Jobcentre and others across the country where its contract is due to expire at the end of March next year.
The DWP says staff at Eastern Avenue, where around 75 people work, will be offered a transfer to another Jobcentre.
It has also offered to reimburse job-seekers' travel costs if they need to attend more often than the fortnightly visit required to sign on, and plans to provide a part-time 'work coach' to offer advice within the community.
The DWP's consultation document states: "Our proposals will provide an estate that gives access to more employment opportunities for local claimants and allow us to achieve significant savings for the taxpayer."
Tim Jones, of the Mental Health Action Group Sheffield, said many claimants using the Eastern Avenue Jobcentre had mental health issues and would find it harder to access their benefits should it close.
Richmond ward councillor Mike Drabble, who joined protesters on Thursday, said it would be a 'real problem' for some of his constituents to access another Jobcentre.
"People are more likely to miss appointments and find themselves falling victim to the draconian sanctions regime through no fault of their own," he added.
Protesters were also joined by Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh, who has launched a petition on her website to save the Eastern Avenue Jobcentre.
She said it was 'shameful' the Government had announced proposals to close the centre without conducting an impact assessment.
The DWP's month-long consultation period is due to end on February 28, at 5pm.
To view the proposals in full and have your say, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/proposal-for-the-future-of-sheffield-eastern-avenue-jobcentre.