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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.

  • Uriah Heap

    Let me see… “You have to take this job, as we’ll cut your benefits anyway, but there is no guarantee of hours and certainly no guarantee of an income…steady or otherwise.” Surely I cannot be the only person to see the sheer perversion and insanity of this… I hope at least some who work for DWP or Job Centres see this…because I am saying that for the work you do you are both insane and perverted.

  • Linda E

    What ever happened to the Law that you have to have enough money to live on when was that scrapped I can’t recall it being done , Is the Government not breaking that law by with drawing money from people leaving them destitute , If you neglect an Animal you don’t feed it or leave it out in the cold you can go to Jail so why is this Government not being brought before the courts for neglecting it’s people .

  • SomeoneElse82

    Universal Credit is a very unfair benefit. I’m not writing this to brag about my situation but simply to point out a flaw in the system that does make it extremely unbalanced. Before I explain I will also point out that I did wait 7 weeks for my first payment. 7 weeks on hardship money alone which left me struggling.

    The new system the DWP use is linked into HMRC and they monitor your pay through the PAYE system. Now, I’ve been back in work for a year. My employer pays on the second to last working day every month.

    Universal Credit operates on what they refer to as assessment periods. These usually run from around the 30/31st every month to 29/30 of the next. If you receive pay within these assessment periods your benefit gets automatically adjusted. If you are back at work and the pay is over the cut off limit then your Universal Credit payments cease.

    However the DWP keep your claim open and monitor the pay for 6 months after your last payment.

    Because my pay comes in on second to last working day each month this occasionally means one month will be paid say the 28th and the next may be the 30th. This sometimes means that the days fall outside of the assessment period between these two dates.

    To the DWP this appears that you have maybe lost your job or have had a bad month on a zero hour contract and your Universal Credit payment is reactivated at full value for that assessment period and you are entitled to a payment. The following month pay usually falls back within the assessment periods so payments cease again, but the six month timer is restarted.

    So essentially I’m in work but this year alone they have made 3 full month Universal Credit payments to me because of this. I’ve queried this with each representative when I’ve called to claim and all three have stated it is simply how the system works. I’ve asked for reassurance that they will not be claiming it back as an overpayment and they have again reassured me that won’t happen.

    I do recognise this as being an unfair glitch in this unfair benefit. But I’m not going to turn down a ‘free’ cash boost with the wages I’m on. Neither would many other readers I’m sure. But it does demonstrate another flaw in the Universal Credits design.