A public meeting is being held in Cookstown on Thursday in relation to the proposed closure of both jobs and benefits offices in the town, in what has been described as “another blow for the local economy”.
The move, put forward by the Department of Communities (DfC), has been widely criticized as it would mean those who need front line support in relation to benefits would have to travel to Dungannon or Magherafelt to get it, while staff who have worked in the area for years would find their jobs relocated much further away.
The revelation comes soon after DfC spent over £300k on a new Jobcentre for the town.
Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone the proposal will further disadvantage already vulnerable people in the community, while the union NIPSA - which has called the meeting - has dubbed the move “disgusting”.
The Mail spoke to people using both benefits offices in Cookstown, who said it would make life very difficult for them as it puts these services out of reach for some.
And a civil servant working in one of the offices told the Mail many of their customers come from rural areas - some of which don’t even have bus services - and questioned how the government can make them travel even further to sign on, lodge a new out of work claim, get help with sickness benefits or even housing support.
Department for Communities said the plan is just a proposal at this stage and that no decision will be made until after a public consultation.
It also told the Mail that the offices were earmarked for closure because of a drop in those claiming JSA in the area, though the introduction of Universal Credit, which encompasses six benefits, has also been used to explain the move.
The meeting will take place this Thursday (October 6) at the Royal Hotel in Cookstown at 7pm.