This article was written by Rowena Mason, political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 8th May 2014
Zero-hours contracts will actually be “enabling” for workers under the coalition’s new benefits system, the Tory employment minister, Esther McVey, has claimed.
The minister said the new universal credit scheme – which rolls all benefits into a single monthly payment – would be beneficial for workers on the controversial zero-hours contracts, even though the use of such contracts has been fiercely criticised for not guaranteeing people minimum hours or pay.
It comes after the Guardian revealed that jobseekers could lose their benefits for three months or more if they refused to take zero-hours contracts for the first time under the new system. Previously, jobseekers have not faced penalties for refusing to apply for or accept the contracts, which have been blamed for creating insecurity in the labour force.
Speaking at an event on women and politics, McVey defended the coalition’s policies, saying: “Universal Credit is going to turn not only employment on its head but benefits on its head because every hour you work, you will get money for. You won’t be penalised. You will be supported, you will constantly be on benefits but you will get more money.
> Eh ? “you will constantly be on benefits but you will get more money” ?
“That is the single biggest thing. There was zero hours. We know there were zero-hours, they came in under Labour, they’ve been there since 2000. But by changing the benefits system, it’s no longer zero, it’s enabling hours. So that every hour you work you will get some money and we will protect you and give you benefits.”
> Eh ?? “ it’s no longer zero, it’s enabling hours” ? What is she talking about ?
At the same event, which was organised by Asda, McVey also acknowledged the need for politicians to talk in a clearer way, saying those who talk in “fancy language” might be trying to hide something or may not actually understand their own policy.
> Ha ha ha ! You said it. McVile – “it’s no longer zero, it’s enabling hours“…
“We do have to listen. And I think what Storm [a mother in the audience] said may be at the heart of it too. She said: do us a favour: use language that we understand. Sometimes fancy language in a fancy way could be because you’re trying to disguise something or could it be that you don’t quite understand it yourself?
“I think understanding that basic language really is key and explaining to people … Never has the world been so complex. A woman’s life is complex, whether we are a mum, there may be a single mum and then looking after a teenager, then coming back into the workplace, and then looking after your elderly parents. How do we get all those complexities into law, which have usually been so rigid, so linear and that is difficult.”
Last week, the Office for National Statistics revealed the number of contracts that do not guarantee minimum hours of work or pay but require workers to be on standby had reached 1.4 million.
More than one in 10 employers are using such contracts, which are most likely to be offered to women, young people and people over 65. The figure rises to almost half of all employers in the tourism, catering and food sector.
The change in policy under universal credit was revealed in a letter from McVey to Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, who had raised the issue of sanctions with her.
The senior Tory confirmed that, under the new system, JobCentre “coaches” would be able to “mandate to zero-hours contracts”, although they would have discretion about considering whether a role was suitable.
The Department for Work and Pensions said jobseekers would not be required to take a zero-hours contract that tied them exclusively to a single employer. The government is already consulting on whether to ban this type of contract altogether.
Source – Welfare News Service 08 May 2014