Zero-hours contracts and in-work benefits

I asked the Secretary for Work and Pensions a question in the Commons yesterday to get clarification that people will not be sanctioned if the only job they have been offered is zero hours with no work or wages guaranteed.  I also wanted to highlight a catch 22 that people will risk losing in-work benefits under the new claimant commitments if they take a zero hours contract anyway.  The reason for this is that the claimant commitment could require low paid part time or zero hours workers who are entitled to some benefits, to take ‘workfare’ employment to make up hours, which would mean that they are unlikely to be able to be available for shifts offered on a zero hours contract and could find themselves in breach of contract.  Iain Duncan Smith’s answer suggests he either doesn’t understand the issue or doesn’t care.  This is going to impact many of my constituents.

Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): “Will the Secretary of State confirm whether benefits officers been have told not to sanction people when the only job offered is on a zero-hours contract? Do Ministers recognise that the new claimant commitments mean that people will not actually be able to sign zero-hours contracts without risking losing their in-work benefits?

Mr Duncan Smith: “The claimant commitment is about people’s obligations under the existing terms. They will have to seek work, attend interviews and try to get a job, and once they are offered a job they must take it. Those are the sanctions coming up under universal credit. People will lose benefits for three months for a first offence, six months for a second offence and three years for a third offence. Right now, zero-hours contracts are legal. If Labour wants to change the law, we want to hear that from the honourable Gentleman.”

I have already introduced a Bill to change the law.  I will keep my eye on the implementation of Universal Credit but the signs are that there are going to be big problems with it.

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