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Iain 'Daftie' Duncan Smith before a previous hearing of the Work and Pensions committee.

Iain ‘Daftie’ Duncan Smith before a previous hearing of the Work and Pensions committee.

Here’s something mentioned during Iain Duncan Smith’s session before the Commons Work and Pensions committee last week, that doesn’t seem to have enjoyed enough attention: It seems Daftie Duncan Smith wants to legalise breach of contract.

He reckons part-time workers should be sanctioned off their top-up benefits if they refuse extra hours offered by their employer.

The sanctions would apply under the Universal Credit system – which is never going to work anyway – so perhaps this is an inconsequential matter, but it is disturbing that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions understands so little about contracts of employment that he thinks this is a reasonable way to behave.

He told the Work and Pensions committee: “That is being investigated, as to whether we can now work to in-work sanctions – in other words, conditionality – so people get an opportunity to move up the hours if they can, and if they don’t wish to do that, we will see whether or not that system of conditionality works.”

Perhaps he doesn’t realise that some people are only able to work a certain number of hours per week, and that any increase means they will not be able to continue in the job. Perhaps he doesn’t realise that this will make them unemployed, and his “conditionality” prank means that they would be sanctioned off being able to claim benefits for a period of time after that, meaning they would be doubly punished for a situation that was not their fault.

Perhaps he doesn’t care. Yes, that seems more likely.

He certainly doesn’t understand contract law. When two parties enter into a contract of employment, it is a binding agreement on both of them – and if it is not honoured by either party – for example, if the employer tells the employee that their hours of work will be extended, rather than negotiating a change in the contract that is agreeable to both – then that party is said to be in breach of that contract.

And does this not open HM Revenue and Customs up to a potential explosion of Income Tax and National Insurance fraud?

Look at the situation Vox Political reported recently, in which a JSA claimant interviewed for a job lasting 22.5 hours per week and then had to turn it down when managers tried to increase the hours to 40; the employer told the Job Centre and he was sanctioned.

He had his benefit reinstated when he reported the employer for potential tax evasion and then told JSA decision makers what he had done, making it clear that he did not see why his benefit should be docked for refusing to take part in an illegal act.

Did Daftie consider this? Or did he think it would be okay because his government wants to reduce the amount of Income Tax it receives anyway, in order to justify cutting public services or selling them off to fatcat tax-avoiding businesspeople?

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