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
A civil servant siphoned off nearly £2,000 from people’s benefits after struggling to meet the payments of his pay-day loan.
Anthony Osborne was paying £700 from his monthly salary to meet the “exorbitant” interest rates of his loan, Sunderland magistrates were told.
He turned to crime and took £1,932 in just five weeks after realising he could alter bank details on customers’ electronic records.
But he was caught after two claimants complained they had not received their benefits and an internal audit was carried out.
Osborne, 42, was arrested and pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position before Sunderland Magistrates’ Court in June.
At a sentencing hearing this week, Osborne blamed mounting debts and depression for the deception, described in court as being totally out of character for a man who had never been in trouble with the law.
Osborne, who gave his address in court as Wark Street, Chester-le-Street, carried out the fraud at Job Centre Plus in Sunderland, where he had worked for seven years.
Prosecutor John McGlone said over five weeks from December 6, the benefits processor helped himself to the cash, which was paid into two bank accounts he had access to.
Chris Wilson, defending, said Osborne was struggling to keep up with the demands from his loan.
“It was not frivolous spending,” he said, “but more a case of making ends meet.”
“Vulnerabilities in the system were identified by him and effectively it was to his benefit. The actions of Mr Osborne on this occasion were completely out of character.
“He has never come under the spotlight of the police or his employment.
“He is embarrassed and ashamed and wishes he could wind the clock back.
“Against the background of depression and the downward spiral he was in, he made an erroneous decision.”
Mr Wilson added that Osborne had moved out from the home he shared with his partner of five years, after they rowed over the court case and he was living at the tattoo removal business in Chester-le-Street which he had set up.
“His financial situation is now stable because of this. He has built up a customer base and it seems he will be successful, going forward,” he added.
Chairman Peter Devere ordered Osborne to serve a 12-month community order and to repay the stolen money back to the Department for Work and Pensions.
> Now, if the defendant had been from the other side of the counter – a claimant – we’d be getting headlines about Benefit Cheats and Taxpayer’s Money.
It’s still benefits fraud, and it’s still taxpayer’s money, but somehow it doesn’t seem to generate the same lurid headlines.
In fact its far worse, because he was in a position of responsibility and in receipt of a wage. And he stole from the worst off in society.
Which to my mind makes him the worst kind of benefits cheat.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 21 Aug 2014
The levels of long-term unemployment among young people in Sunderland has halved in the last year, new government figures show – but concerns remain about pay levels and job security in the city.
The North East as a whole has seen the largest annual employment increase of all UK regions according to the latest figures by the Office of National Statstics (ONS).
Employment in our region has been boosted by 54,000 people getting into work in the last 12 months.
The Labour Market statistics show the number of long-term claimants of Job Seekers’ Allowance in Sunderland among 18 to 24-year-olds is down 50 per cent year-on-year, with the number of short-term claimants dropping by 32 per cent. The number of claimants of all age groups saw a decrease of 31 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.
North East employer engagement manager for Job Centre Plus, Steve McCall, put the increase down to a number of Sunderland call centres, as well as care homes taking on new staff.
“It’s good to see the trend is going the right way,” he said.
“The likes of Sunderland have seen especially large increases in employment opportunities in call centres. Barclays, Npower, EE and 2Touch have been all been recruiting. It’s permanent, it’s full time, it’s part-time and short-term contracts. It’s a mix of employment opportunities coming up.
“It’s perhaps down to getting people to think about where their skills can find them work rather than concentrate on a specific career choice.
“It is also important to point out that there isn’t just call centres and care h omes. With the football starting again, along with major events at the Stadium of Light, we run courses in events cover and we also have a major retail employer coming to Sunderland this calendar year, which will be looking to recruit.”
> Strangely, Steve fails to mention people being sanctioned and those dumped into workfare-type situations – I’d bet a lot of that alledged drop in the youth figures is actually largely down to those.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 14 Aug 2014
That item attracted the following comment, from one Captain Charisma, on the Echo website, which is worth reposting here :
Great to see such colourful insight from JCP
“North East employer engagement manager for Job Centre Plus, Steve McCall, put the increase down to a number of Sunderland call centres, as well as care homes taking on new staff.”
Well that is an expansive insight there Steve, perhaps McDonalds had a vacancy too… who knows eh?
The job centre is not fit for purpose, they do not assist anyone in seeking employment, they merely sign job seekers off weekly and hope that they get referred to an employability company so they can come off ‘their books‘.
The employment advisors are useless and not fit for purpose. Steve McCall there who is an engagement manager in this article illustrates just how woefully inept they are as he has no knowledge of the local job market. He is guessing that call centres and a few care homes are the reason for employment surges. No figures or facts to back this up. Anyone with half a brain knows the call centres are now the biggest employers in the region and Steve’s lack of investigation into the drop in unemployment just showcases the failings of the job centre.
The employment figures are in no way to do with the job centre.
I have dealt with the job centre for two previous recruitment campaigns and they have been really unhelpful.
When I was recruiting for my accountant, I was told by a Job Centre plus advisor in Sunderland “We only get dregs from the manufacturing industry’s and rubbish call centre staff who can’t hold down jobs for more than 2 months through our doors”.
I was absolutely disgusted by their attitude. I have seen people from all levels go through the doors of the JCP in Sunderland and I was shocked by the flippant attitude of their staff, what hope do job seekers have if that is the attitude of their employment advisors. I ended up using a local agency who at least give my company a professional and consultative service!
When David Cameron stands up in all his hypocrisy and tells you that tearing apart the basic safety net that guaranteed people would not be left in hunger or destitution is part of his “moral mission”, even die-hard Tories should agree that the country has taken a turn for the worse.
When he defends an administration that has become so punitive that applicants who don’t get it right have to wait without food for months at a time, by claiming he is doing “what is right”, even die-hard Tories should agree that the man who claims he is Prime Minister has diverged from reality.
That is precisely what he has done, and you can bet that the Tory diehards will quietly go along with it because they think it is far better for other people to lose their lives than it is for their government to lose face.
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