I read the following altercation, copied verbatim from today’s Hansard (the record of Parliamentary events) on Facebook and almost despaired. The following took place during Work and Pensions Questions.
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.”
In a nutshell, Iain Duncan Smith was saying that anyone offered a zero-hours contract must take it or lose their benefits for a minimum of 13 weeks.
Zero-hours contracts are treacherous – as we all know. Often an employee could be left waiting for days or weeks without receiving a call to come to work, but – as they are, technically, employed – they cannot claim unemployment benefits for the periods of downtime.
So Iain Duncan Smith is saying that many jobseekers will have a Hobson’s Choice between taking a job that guarantees no pay, no benefits and no security of tenure, or the complete loss of benefits for at least three months.
How, exactly, does that tally with his policy objective, which describes as “Making Work Pay”?
This might deserve a complaint under the Trade Descriptions Act.