Labour accuses coalition of encouraging growth of zero-hours contracts

Labour accuses coalition of encouraging growth of zero-hours contracts

Labour seeks clarification after minister’s letter says jobseekers could lose benefits if they do not accept zero-hours contracts.

Labour has accused coalition ministers of encouraging the spread of zero-hours jobs, after it emerged that jobseekers could lose their benefits for three months if they do not accept such contracts.

A letter from the Conservative minister Esther McVey revealed that, under the new universal credit system, benefit claimants for the first time will be at risk of sanctions if they do not apply for and accept certain zero-hours jobs.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, called on the government to clarify its position, as ministers had previously said jobseekers would face no penalties if they did not take zero-hours roles.

On Tuesday David Cameron backed the plan. Asked whether the prime minister thought it was right for jobseekers to face benefit sanctions if they turned down zero-hours contracts, his official spokesman said: “He does think that it is right, as part of the introduction of universal credit, that there should be a requirement on people to take work opportunities that are offered, such as the ones you refer to.”

The spokesman told a regular Westminster media briefing: “Individual decisions about tailored work requirements for people who are in receipt of taxpayer-funded benefits are taken on a case-by-case basis by jobcentre staff. But as a point of principle, should we be expecting people to seek employment in return for benefits, and do we have a system, in the universal credit, that is designed to respond to changing earnings? He does think that’s the right approach.”

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