The Department for Work and Pensions has secured 80 sites where new temporary jobcentres will open as part of efforts to help people who are unemployed because of the pandemic, with “dozens more” expected to follow.
Minister for employment Mims Davies told MPs that the move was part of the government’s ongoing commitment to support claimants back into work in response to the economic impact of Covid-19. The new jobcentres come on top of the 639 existing jobcentres in England, Wales and Scotland.
Seventeen of the sites are in London and many of the new jobcentres will be taking over empty shop units, such as the former BHS branch in Falkirk, a recently vacated branch of TK Maxx in Walsall, and a closed branch of GAME in Lewisham.
In a written ministerial statement, Davies sought to disassociate the move from the DWP estate rationalisation programme, which identified more than 130 jobcentres and service centres for closure in 2017, as part of the wind-down of its 20-year PRIME contract with Telereal Trillium.
“This is not about reversing previous decisions on the broader renewal of the DWP estate, rather it is a temporary measure, in direct response to the pressures the pandemic has placed on the labour market,” Davies said.
“During the pandemic, DWP successfully pivoted to a more multi-channelled approach, offering more digital support in line with social distancing measures. However, as restrictions ease, it is vital we adapt our services and reintroduce face-to-face support, given that we know how effective this has been for our claimants in the past.”
Davies said DWP had now recruited 10,000 of the additional 13,500 work coaches expected to be in place by the end of the current financial year, on 5 April. The extra staff will bring the total number of DWP work coaches to 27,000.
Davies said that leases had already been secured on the 80 new jobcentre sites which she said were predominantly in town and city centres and met planning requirements on accessibility for colleagues and customers. She added that “dozens more” temporary jobcentres were expected to follow in future phases.
“These new sites provide a high-quality, modern and digitally enabled environment for both colleagues and customers,” Davies said.
“As part of our design requirements, we are reducing the environmental impact, for example, by increasing the energy performance certificate rating across sites. This is something DWP is committed to, as part of the programme to review and renew our estates.”
She said the government would review the need for temporary sites on an ongoing basis, to ensure DWP was continuing to strike the right balance between providing essential services for claimants and delivering value for money for the taxpayer.
Data from the Office for National Statistics published yesterday found that 693,000 fewer people were in “payrolled employment” in February 2021 compared with the same month last year.
The UK unemployment rate in the three months to January 2021 was 5.0%, 1.5 percentage points lower than the year before and 0.3 percentage points lower than the previous quarter.
The ONS said an estimated 1.70 million people were unemployed in the three months from November 2020 to January 2021, up by 360,000 on the previous year and up 11,000 on the previous quarter.