A UNION representing public service employees has called for job centres to be closed in areas affected by the Indian variant of coronavirus.

These areas include Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley and six other boroughs around the country.

The Public and Commercial Services Union says that members in these areas concerns are not being taken seriously when the updated guidance calls for people to meet outdoors and to maintain a two-metre distance.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It cannot be right that our members are being put in harm's way once again, even though new government guidance says people from different households should not meet indoors.

“DWP staff deal with a range of claimants who travel in from across the wider region so asking them to travel to jobcentres for appointments contradicts the government’s own advice,

“This is just the latest example of incompetent ministers showing scant regard for the safety of their own staff who could provide a first-class service to claimants by working from home.”

According to the government's current guidance, people in affected areas such as Blackburn with Darwen and Burnley should try to:

  • Meet outside rather than inside where possible
  • Keep two metres apart from people that you don’t live with (unless you have formed a support bubble with them), this includes friends and family you don’t live with
  • Minimise travel in and out of affected areas

As such the PCS says that it believes all job centres in these areas should be closed and that claimants are serviced remotely and online, as they were when Covid-19 first hit the country.

However, the Department for Work and Pensions has rejected the call, with work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey saying that the new guidance "should not come as a shock."

A DWP spokesperson said: “Colleague and customer safety is our priority as our jobcentres provide vital support to those who need it during this difficult time.

“We continue to work closely with the unions to ensure our sites are Covid secure in line with PHE and Government guidance and keep health and safety under constant review.”

This comes after new guidance issued by the government last Friday sparked confusion across affected areas with local leaders not having been made aware of the changes until Monday evening, only for the guidance to be changed back again by Tuesday following a joint statement by all eight boroughs' directors of public health including Blackburn with Darwen's Professor Dominic Harrison.

The statement made clear that there are no new local lockdowns in place.

There are no plans to close job centres as current rules stand.