The recent small fall in unemployment has been entirely down to the growth of part time work. Unprecedented numbers of people are now working part time and are dependent on some benefits to meet their housing costs and other costs of living. The number of people in full time work has continued to fall.
Despite this Universal Credit seems tailor made to punish any minimum wage worker who cannot find work for 35 hours a week. Under the new regime those earning less than 35 hours a week will face ‘work conditionality requirements’ that may mean obtaining or keeping part time work is impossible. Claimants will be forced to attend work related interviews and carry out intensive job search to find full time work during any hours they are not currently working.
Workers will face brutal sanctions for non-compliance. Under the new rules a part time workers must be prepared to attend an interview for a job with longer hours within 48 hours of being dictated to do so by the DWP. Should they fail to attend then they will face sanctions. Should this happen more than twice then they will be sanctioned for up to three years, even if they have children to support.
Part time workers will also have to be prepared to hand in their notice and leave as soon as legally possible should they be offered a position with longer hours.
It is clear that this will lead to anomalies. Someone working 30 hours a week may be forced to immediately leave and take up a 32 hour a week job. The same will apply to someone working 10 hours a week, who may be forced to leave to work somewhere else for 12 hours. Until the magic figure of 35 hours a week is reached, claimants will be continually hounded in and out of work.
It will not matter that perhaps the lesser paid job is providing training, has better prospects, is in the local area or fits with child care commitments. Under the draft regulations as they stand it will not even matter if the job with longer hours is merely temporary. Someone with a long term part time job could be forced to leave to take up a fortnight’s full time work.
Whilst Ministers will claim such experiences are likely to be exceptional, or won’t happen in practice, experience of the benefits system reveals the opposite to be true. We can perhaps optimistically assume that the hundreds of thousands of people with life threatening and terminal conditions who have won tribunal victories to have sickness or disability benefits restored, were not expected to occur. They too are anomalies, exceptions, cases that wouldn’t occur in practice. We can hopefully presume that young people weren’t intended to have been forced to sleep under a bridge for no wages during the Queen’s Jubiliee. Yet that’s exactly what happened.
With Jobcentre and benefit staff under continuous pressure to sanction claimants and meet targets, very often the worst case scenario envisaged when drawing up benefits legislation becomes the norm in practice.
It is the impact that these rules will have on employers however that will undermine the delivery of the new regime. Employers are unlikely to take on part time workers knowing they are being forced to continually look for a job with longer hours elsewhere. No Universal Credit claimant will be able to honestly show any commitment to their future role, knowing that at any moment the DWP could force them to take up work somewhere else. Few employers will sanction workers skipping off for interviews with another employer with just 48 hours notice. Some part time workers may even find themselves sacked for meeting this new DWP requirement. Should they not be successful at the interview they may end up out of work all together.
Once again Iain Duncan Smith is launching sweeping reform of the benefits system with no real thought as to the consequences.
It is highly likely that employers will opt not to offer part time work to UK workers on Universal Credit. No employer wants workers who are likely to leave at the drop of the hat and are actively undermining the workforce by sloping off for interviews every five minutes.
As ever these new rules are to be strictly targeted at the low paid only. Part time workers who earn enough to meet the weekly income threshold – which is to be the weekly amount earned by someone working minimum wage for 35 hours a week – will still be eligible for in work benefits without being forced to look for longer hours.
Therefore a professional worker, who earns for example £20 p/h for eleven hours a week, will be exempt for these new rules and still eligible for in work benefits without harassment from the DWP. A supermarket workers who works 30 hours a week however will be under constant pressure to increase their hours or leave their job.
Once again this Government is not just punishing people for being unable to find work. It is punishing those who are unable to find well paid work. As previously mentioned, even the Victorian distinction between deserving and undeserving poor matter not for this Government of millionaires. If you are poor, whether in work or not, this Government blames you and is coming for you.
Universal Credit is set to be shambolic in implementation and brutal in practice. In many cases it will punish, not reward,those who find work. It will cost billions. This isn’t stopping Iain Duncan Smith and his toff friend Lord Fraud from pushing ahead with this desperately out of touch legislation. It’s almost like they’ve never had a proper job and have little idea of how the low paid sector works in practice.
The draft regulation for Universal Credit have just been published and are open to consultation at: http://ssac.independent.gov.uk/consult.shtml