CAMPAIGNERS fighting to keep open a specialist site and save 40 jobs in Barrow are due to take to the streets in protest.
Barrow’s Phoenix House is among several sites across the country to have been earmarked for closure by the Department of Work and Pensions.
The team, based at the building in Stephen Street, processes benefits claims for people with industrial injuries such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, a form of cancer.
Campaign groups representing asbestos victims say the closure would lead to processing delays and lead to people ‘dying without being able to afford care and heating’.
A protest is due to be held in Barrow town centre on October 15, starting at 1.30pm by the Spirit of Barrow statue.
In a letter to the DWP, Joanne Gordon, the chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups’ Forum UK, said: “In our view it is imperative that no closure or job losses are made unless or until the skillsets of the current Barrow office staff can be replicated at an alternative, whether that is through staff transfer, skills training programmes and/or the implementation of fully tested systems and processes at an alternative site.
“In these circumstances we would ask you halt the closure process immediately and carry out a full assessment of the impacts and the means of mitigation to prevent the breakdown of the service which we are already witnessing and which will otherwise do irreparable harm to the remaining lives of a very large number of asbestos victims.”
Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, DWP minister David Rutley told MPs that meetings were being held with affected staff on Thursday. Labour claimed up to 3,000 jobs would be at risk under the plans.
Mr Rutley said the plans will span the next three years, with the department ‘transitioning to an estate that is smaller, greener and better’.
Mr Rutley added the Government will ‘see what opportunities there are within DWP’ and other departments for affected staff and added that the change ‘does not impact job centres and the customer-facing interactions’.
Earlier this year, the Government announced plans to close 42 DWP sites in a move which the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union it said would put at least 1,100 jobs at risk.
The then DWP minister David Rutley said the plans would span the next three years, with the department ‘transitioning to an estate that is smaller, greener and better’.
Mr Rutley added the Government would ‘see what opportunities there are within DWP’ and other departments for affected staff and added that the change ‘does not impact job centres and the customer-facing interactions’.