Westminster accused of making benefits claimants work zero-hours contracts

The government has been accused of forcing people on benefits to work in unstable zero-hours jobs after it emerged that sanctions could be handed out to those who refuse them.

Unlike Jobseeker’s Allowance which it replaces, Universal Credit recipients “can be expected” to work a zero-hours contract job and be penalised if they don’t. In a response to a written parliamentary question at Westminster, Minister for Employment Damian Hinds said: “If there is no good reason that a Universal Credit claimant cannot take a zero-hours contract job they may be sanctioned for not doing so.”

While Universal Credit is designed to allow claimants to increase their income with part-time earnings, the benefit is paid months in arrears, raising fears the effect of insecure labour could be magnified.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

SNP MP Neil Gray claimed the government was using sanctions “to force the low paid into exploitative zero-hours contracts and financial destitution”. He called on the government to respond to demands from a UN committee for a review of benefits sanctions, and for the roll-out of Universal Credit to be halted.

Mr Gray said: “The Tories’ system of punitive benefit sanctions is causing real suffering, and pushing people who are already in hardship into crisis and emergency aid.

“By giving people no choice over zero-hours contracts, the Tory government is pushing them into the arms of unscrupulous employers and leaving families with little or no income to rely on.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Universal Credit is more flexible than the old system, payments adjust to earnings and hours making a part-time or temporary job a viable step towards long-term employment. Zero-hour contracts can provide a pathway to employment for people who don’t want to be committed to working a set number of hours a week, for example those with caring responsibilities, and work coaches will always take into account a claimants personal circumstances when supporting them into work.”