Library staff are shouldering the burden of helping job seekers and benefit claimants deal with new welfare demands, a council leader has claimed.
Staff in Gateshead libraries are allegedly spending hours helping people to carry out job searches and fill in the online forms they are now required to complete by the Jobcentre Plus.
Today leader of Gateshead Council, Mick Henry, is asking his fellow authority leaders across the North East to unite in lobbying Government to demand payment for the work they’re doing to help people cope with the digital changes to the welfare system.
“It’s possible the job shop isn’t involving itself to the level of job search. Maybe the Government needs to think about paying us for that,” said Coun Henry.
“The libraries are there to provide a service to Gateshead residents. We aren’t complaining about that but we do think that maybe if our budgets are being severely cut then perhaps there is an argument that we are getting to be good at [helping with online tasks] and we have the facilities but perhaps not the resources to fund it.”
Changes to the welfare system mean that more people are now required to carry out and record their online job searches and fill in forms to process welfare payments over the Internet.
However, with Gateshead the 47th worst borough in the UK for digital skills, Coun Henry said the assumption that most people now have laptops and smart phones is misguided.
He said there was a growing sense Gateshead’s libraries and staff are being used to carry out functions the Job Centre Plus should be assisting with.
“It’s very easy to think that everybody has a computer but that is just not the case. We are finding that more and more people are actually using the library service to access job searches from what the statistics are showing us,” said Coun Henry.
“If we are trying to address what future needs might be and if there’s evidence that job search has a lot to do with that, then we would like to make sure that other Government agencies that are meant to be primarily involved with job search are doing it properly and working with us.”
Speaking at a meeting of Gateshead Council’s cabinet yesterday morning, councillor for Bensham, Catherine Donovan, said:
“We couldn’t have imagined how the focus of libraries has changed. People are very easily having their benefits sanctioned and the excuse that you couldn’t get to a computer doesn’t wash.
“We do need to be challenging the Jobcentre Plus on the amount of hours our staff are putting in to help these people.”
Unison branch secretary Dave Smith said the roll out of the Universal Credit trial in Manchester had led to people flooding to libraries to use computers and the situation in Gateshead was following the same trend.
He said: “Around 45,000 people used libraries in Gateshead last year and we know that people using it for ICT has increased. Libraries are being flooded by people on Jobseekers Allowance as they have got to upload CVs.
“Gateshead is the 47th digitally excluded neighbourhood in the country and libraries are key. Gateshead is investing in broadband but even if you have broadband there is a lack of skills and confidence. There is a huge amount of work and support needed to get people to use that connectivity as it comes to their houses.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 Oct 2014