Staff at debt support charity stage public protest over plans to cut jobs

StepChange says it has revised down the number of possible redundancies from 170 to 70 in response to a consultation

StepChange staff protest outside its office in Leeds
StepChange staff protest outside its office in Leeds

Union members at the debt support charity StepChange have been staging a public protest after warnings that up to 170 jobs could be at risk.

Unite organised the socially-distanced protest outside the charity’s Leeds office yesterday after it warned that the potential job cuts were “counterproductive”.

The union, which has 100 members at StepChange, said the charity’s “panic” to reduce its 1,500-strong workforce would result in the organisation being overwhelmed when the government's job retention scheme, debtor payment holidays and temporary benefit uplifts came to an end.

The charity said the number of redundancies had been reduced to 70 following a consultation.

But one StepChange employee said: “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.

“It's even more baffling when you realise they're going to start recruiting again next year.

“We're also worried about the impact on our clients, as many of them are quite vulnerable, or have complex situations.

“Sadly, some of us may now become clients of the charity ourselves.”

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

“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 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.

When the job cuts were announced last month Andrew said the charity’s funding structure depended on advice volume, which was why it had to introduce cost-cutting measures that included, but were not limited to, redundancies.

The charity said the volume of people asking for debt advice had been significantly reduced since the start of the pandemic.

In 2020 it helped 200,000 people through full debt advice, compared to more than 300,000 in 2019.

A spokesperson for StepChange said: “The proposal to make redundancies at StepChange is one that we all wish we could avoid.

“However, we strongly believe that these actions are in the long-term interest of the charity and our clients.

“A full consultative process has been undertaken with individuals as well as our elected colleague representatives, who scrutinised the proposals on behalf of all StepChange colleagues.

“Following the consultation, as well as further cost-saving measures, the original proposals have been amended, and the number of redundancies will be reduced to 70, compared to the original proposal of up to 170.”

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