'Counterproductive' redundancies

Unite protests at Leeds debt charity StepChange over plans to slash up to 170 jobs

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Members of Unite will hold a socially distanced protest tomorrow outside the Leeds debt support charity StepChange from 12.30pm over ‘counterproductive’ plans to slash up to 170 jobs.

The ending of the job retention scheme, debtor payment holidays and temporary benefit uplifts are anticipated to result in a surge in demand for StepChange’s services in the coming months.

Unite said StepChange’s ‘panicked’ plans to make around 10 per cent of its 1,500 strong workforce redundant would result in the charity being overwhelmed as the differing forms of financial support for the Covid-19 pandemic come to an end.

The charity, where Unite has more than 100 members, receives funding based on the amount of people it helps, which has fallen due to the pandemic relief measures.

In response to the fall in numbers, chief executive Phil Andrew said the job losses, as well as pay freeze for remaining staff, are ‘in the short term… cutting our cloth to fit’.

Unite regional officer Phil Boyes said, “StepChange is rushing into panicked plans for redundancies that will prove counterproductive once furlough and other pandemic support measures come to an end.

“The charity knows that it will be overwhelmed once demand picks up,” he added. “That is why it is trying to introduce backup digital only services that will prove completely inadequate for the many vulnerable people who get in touch with StepChange for help. We also have reason to believe that StepChange will begin hiring again shortly after demand increases.

“Chief executive Phil Andrew said these cuts are causing a ‘high degree of pain for us as a caring employer’. If this is true, we call on StepChange to stop ignoring Unite and work with the union to find a solution to avoid these unnecessary and ill-thought through redundancies.

“For instance, there is no reason whatsoever that under threat staff cannot be furloughed until September, when it is expected that demand for StepChange’s services will rocket. Our members have also put forward proposals for voluntary redundancies and temporary pay cuts, all of which have been ignored by management.

“StepChange is there to help people, so what does it say about the charity’s leadership when it decides to target staff and damage services because it’s the most convenient short-term option.”

A StepChange worker said, “We just can’t believe it. It seems crazy taking on over 150 new staff last year only to get rid of even more this year, especially when we know we’re going to be completely overwhelmed soon. We’ll be losing some experienced staff too. It’s even more baffling when you realise they’re going to start recruiting again next year.

“Sadly, some of us may now become clients of the charity ourselves,” they added. “It really hits home when you see StepChange adverts offering help to people facing redundancy.

“We’re also worried about the impact on our clients, as many of them are quite vulnerable, or have complex situations. These clients need to speak to an understanding, supportive advisor, not a smartphone app.”

By Ryan Fletcher

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