The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted that it is using the controversial benefits sanctions regime to force unemployed and low-paid workers into insure and exploitative zero-hours jobs.
Zero hours contracts notoriously offer no guarantee of hours and lack many of the employment rights enjoyed by people in full-time and part-time employment.
The shocking revelation was exposed following a written parliamentary question at Westminster, to which the DWP Minister for Employment Damian Hinds MP admitted: “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.”
Universal Credit is replacing a number of existing social security benefits and tax credits with one single monthly payment, and has faced strong criticism from opposition parties and charities alike.
The flagship new benefit is gradually being rolled out across the UK, despite growing concerns that deep-rooted flaws in the system may push low income families into debt and closer to eviction.
Yesterday, the charity Citizens Advice warned that plans to accelerate the roll-out of Universal Credit are “a disaster waiting to happen“, explaining that is likely to push low income households into a financial crisis.
SNP MP Neil Gray said the Tory Government is using “punitive” sanctions “to force the low paid into exploitative zero-hours contracts and financial destitution”.
He urged the UK Government to undertake a review into the benefit sanctions system, as recommended by a United Nations committee, and called for the roll out of Universal Credit to be halted until serious problems with the new system are fixed.
Mr Gray added: “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.”
“With fluctuating hours and income it also creates a unacceptable situation where families cannot effectively budget or plan their lives, for instance having to find and pay for childcare without knowing what hours they’ll be given or whether they can afford it.
“This is yet another failure in the shambolic roll-out of Universal Credit, which has been beset by damaging delays and errors in payments.
“With so many serious problems the roll-out of Universal Credit must be halted, there must be a wide-ranging review of the Tory benefit sanctions regime, and rather than forcing families into exploitative zero-hours contracts the UK government should be banning them.
“In Scotland, we are taking a different approach. While 85% of welfare spending – including Universal Credit – remains reserved to the UK Government and firmly in Tory hands, the SNP Scottish Government is working to ensure we build a Scottish Social Security Agency with respect and dignity at its core with the powers that we do have.”
A DWP spokesperson told the Scotsman: “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.”
Last Update at 16:47 (GMT) on 12th September 2017 to add further comments from Neil Gray MP.