Leeds Stepchange job cuts protest to be staged by Unite union outside debt charity's city centre office

Leeds charity workers will stage a socially distanced protest in the city centre today as they challenge "counterproductive" plans to cut up to 170 jobs.

By Georgina Morris
Thursday, 10th June 2021, 4:45 am

Members of the trade union Unite will be demonstrating outside the offices of debt charity StepChange in Albion Street this lunchtime.

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The union says "panicked" plans to make around 10 per cent of the 1,500 staff redundant would result in the charity being overwhelmed as the various financial support schemes put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic come to an end.

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Debt charity StepChange has announced compulsory redundancies in response to funding shortfalls. Credit: Brian Jackson/stock.adobe.com

When the job cuts were first announced in April, chief executive Phil Andrew said the charity's funding was based on the number of people it helps and demand had fallen due to relief measures in place during the pandemic.

He said it meant that although demand was expected to rise in the future with the ending of the job retention scheme, debtor payment holidays and temporary benefit uplifts, the charity had no choice but to make savings now by reducing staffing levels.

Speaking ahead of the protest, 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. 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."

One StepChange worker said it was hard to believe what was being proposed, adding: "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."

They said the fear was that some of those who lose their jobs could find themselves becoming clients of the charity, adding: "It really hits home when you see StepChange adverts offering help to people facing redundancy."

The worker also voiced concerns about the potential impact on clients, many of whom are "quite vulnerable" or face complex situations and need to speak to an advisor rather than being directed to online support services.

In a blog explaining the reasons for the job cuts, Mr Andrew previously said that "this approach of cutting our cloth to fit comes with a high degree of pain for us as a caring employer".

Mr Boyes said: "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?"

When the job cuts were announced, the charity said it still had some staff furloughed and a pay freeze had been put in place as part of efforts to manage its finances.

Mr Andrew noted a "significant shortfall in funding" at that time, saying: "The fact that we expect demand to increase in the future doesn’t change this current reality.

"As a prudent charity, we will not compromise our financial stability by relying on future funding to support our current operating costs."

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