Wednesday, February 26, 2014
CALLS for a “satellite” job centre for Exmouth – where the town’s unemployed could sign on instead of having to trek 23 miles into Exeter and back – are growing considerably louder.
MP Hugo Swire has backed the suggestion, saying it’s a “good idea”.
The East Devon MP and a minister of state for the Foreign Office says he intends to ask the Department of Work and Pensions area manager to look into the matter.
Meanwhile John Humphreys, Exmouth’s Mayor, is also backing a once-a-week signing-on facility within the town, saying, “We need this satellite office”.
And last week Exmouth Town Council approved a motion proposing that the DWP undertakes an urgent review of the situation and to look at fully reinstating the town’s job centre.
The news follows last week’s Journal investigation which revealed that six years on from the closure of Exmouth’s job centre on Rolle Street, some of the town’s unemployed are so poor that they cannot afford the train or bus fare once a fortnight into Exeter to sign on.
With no reimbursement for their fares (£7.20 bus, £4.10 off-peak train), some jobseekers are even walking the 23-mile round trip to sign on, avoiding “sanctions” (having their benefits cut).
The proposed Exmouth satellite signing-on office could be modelled on a similar scheme operating twice-a-week in Okehampton.
“I understand why the DWP has tried to concentrate everything in Exeter,” said Hugo Swire, “but clearly if it works in Okehampton – although that town is much further away than Exmouth is from Exeter – then I think that’s a good idea.
“So I would be supportive, if they can do it, of bringing it once a week – or even once a fortnight – and having a presence on a regular basis in the town.”
The proposal for the satellite office has been welcomed by Exmouth’s Open Door Centre – an umbrella support organisation working with local churches - and the once-a-week Glenorchy Work Club.
“I’m pretty supportive of anything that the Open Door Centre or the Glenorchy Work Club try and do,” said Mr Swire. “It’s my natural default position, so I think this is a good idea.”
John Humphreys, Exmouth’s mayor, was in agreement.
“As one of the largest towns within Devon, it isn’t right for our people to have to travel in to Exeter to sign on when there are satellite offices in other towns.
“Exmouth’s job centre closed in 2008 under the Labour cutbacks. The jobless figures are going down under the coalition government and it has gone down within Exmouth, but we still need this satellite office.”
The matter was brought up at the full Town Council meeting on Monday, February 17, when
Steve Gazzard, the Lib Dem councillor for Exmouth Town Ward, proposed a motion, asking for the DWP to undertake a review of its decision to close Exmouth’s job centre.
“It’s causing a problem and hardship to a lot of people,” said Cllr Gazzard. “A lot of people are losing out, are having their benefits stopped for missing appointments, and have to reapply. That doesn’t happen overnight.
“I think we have over 400 unemployed or seeking work in Exmouth. We are the biggest town in Devon. We deserve a job centre plus. Honiton has one. I understand Okehampton has a drop-in centre. The DWP is duty-bound to reconsider the decision it made over four years ago. It is doing a great disservice to our younger and elderly people who are still looking for work. To expect people to go to Exeter is causing unnecessary hardship for these individuals.”
Cllr Gazzard’s motion was carried unanimously by the town council.