Mid Ulster District Council has written to Minister for Communities, Paul Givan, MLA, to seek an urgent meeting to discuss the proposals to close the Cookstown Social Security Office and Job Centre.
The Department are currently holding a consultation exercise which ends on Sunday, November 13, and in the proposals put forward seek to move face to face services to branches in Dungannon and Magherafelt.
The Council, who oppose the proposal to close Cookstown’s Social Security Office and Job Centre, will also ask the Department to suspend the consultation process until the Rural Proofing study has been completed by the Department.
Chairman of Mid Ulster District Council, Cllr. Trevor Wilson has outlined the Council’s strong opposition to the proposals, saying:
“We are strongly opposed to the closure of the jobs and benefits offices in Cookstown, which will deprive some of the most vulnerable and needy in our society of accessible, face to face support at a time of change due to welfare reform.
“The introduction of the Universal Tax Credit system which will see six working age benefits going into one, will mean that eventually the proposals will impact on the vast majority of the Cookstown area’s population.
“The new processes being introduced under these changes will create uncertainty, and especially for many Section 75 groups, the importance of face to face interaction and support where they are able to travel to easily will be crucial to ensuring they continue to receive the correct support for their individual situation.
“The limited access to suitable public transport faced by many residents within the Cookstown environs will create additional burdens on those vulnerable people who would have to travel further to meet unrealistic demands made by service delivery if this proposal was put in place.
“People living in poverty, including the ‘working poor’ may be unable to access services online, and those vulnerable groups within our society may find online services inaccessible in terms of understanding the new processes. Furthermore, rural broadband connectivity is an issue which has yet to be resolved, leading to patchy provision in the hinterlands of Mid Ulster, which will directly impact on the access to support if proposal are put in place.
It is ironic that at the time of local, regional and national coverage in the wake of the release of Ken Loach’s ‘I, Daniel Blake’, a film that so eloquently illustrates some of the problems that will ensue if this proposal is actioned, that we find ourselves in the position in Cookstown of removal of an essential public service, while in other areas the Department continues to spend on redevelopment of other rural offices.”
The Council is encouraging individuals and groups affected to respond to the consultation at https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/consultations/consultation-proposals-close-cookstown-social-security-office-and-cookstown-jobcentre before the closing date of Sunday, November 13.