Zero-hours Contracts

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 24 February 2014.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 2:30, 24 February 2014

What recent assessment he has made of the extent of abuse of zero-hours contracts in back-to-work schemes.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Under the Work programme, providers are paid for getting people into sustained work, generally a job of at least 16 hours a week, paid at the national minimum wage or more, and which lasts for a minimum of six months. That can be two or three jobs, but none the less, they have to last for six months.

Outcomes are counted on that basis, therefore DWP does not hold information about the employment contract itself. Moving someone on to a zero-hours contract would not count as a job outcome unless it entailed meaningful work that was registered, taking them off benefits.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

My constituent was taken on by a security company on a zero-hours contract with a promise of 40 hours a week, but he has been given only 17 hours, while the company takes on more staff from the Work programme with more promises of proper hours. He cannot pay his rent, he cannot sign on because he would be considered to have made himself unemployed, he cannot plan and he cannot live. When will the Secretary of State end this abuse of zero-hours contracts?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

As I understand it from what the hon. Lady said, her constituent was not taken on under the Work programme, but others in the Work programme were, which was causing him the problem. If she wants to give me the full details of the case I will look at it, because that is slightly different from what I understood her question to be about. If there is an abuse among the Work programme providers in this regard, I will certainly deal with it.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Will the Secretary of State look at those vacancies, particularly in the Ryedale jobcentre, that are the most difficult to fill, which tend to be in the care sector? Will he also look at any abuse of zero-hours contracts in the employment of carers, whether under the Work programme or any other long-term sustainable work?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

First, may I say how pleased I am to see my hon. Friend in her place? It is my personal hope that she remains there and returns to the House again, because she gets great coverage for her constituents. The issue she raises is an important one, but we need to get the right balance between what zero-hours contracts deliver and any abuses there might be. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is carrying out a consultation, and we are fully co-operating in that and will ensure that such contracts do not cause problems in the Work programme. However, it is worth remembering that those contracts also provide people with a flexible way of working and the freedom to arrange jobs around other commitments, and they allow employers to be competitive in response to market trends. I therefore think that we must get the balance right with zero-hours contracts and not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We must recognise that for many people they are positive and helpful, but we also want to end any abuses there might be for others.