Saturday, 10 August 2013

Zero hours and food banks

It's the silly season, when the politicians and lots of the journalists are on holiday so there's no news.  But life goes on for the rest of us.  And there have been two topics still being covered.  The first is the prevalence of zero hours contracts.  From an original estimate of 250,000 people on these, it keeps climbing.  We now hear that Sports Direct, Burger King and Domino's Pizza, and now Curzon and Everyman cinemas all employ the bulk of their staff on this basis.  The BBC tried its best to present a "balanced" view - it works well for lots of people - but it's increasingly obvious that zero hours works principally for the employer and leaves vast numbers of workers struggling to survive.
And then there are food banks.  The Independent published an excellent piece yesterday headed "Summer of Hunger".  Here's something which government ministers would never think of; the school holidays mean that the one good meal a day which the children of struggling families is no longer available, and that pushes the family over the edge.  The Trussell Trust gives detailed figures for the rise in numbers seeking help, and they make an interesting observation.  "We see a lot of people who've had their benefit sanctioned in ways which, on the face of it, seem inappropriately punitive.  We meet people who've had their benefits stopped because they were late for an appointment."  Remember that the DWP won't publish the figures for sanctions, claiming with ever-decreasing credibility that they're doing quality checks on the data.  A development officer for the Trust in the north west is convinced that the doubling of need in that region is down to welfare reform of various kinds.  They give figures; eight years ago the proportion of people referred to them because of benefit problems was 20% - it's now 52%.  But the DWP is still in denial.  A spokesman said, "The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed and there is no evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks."  That is patent nonsense, and they know it.


  1. I cannot say that Denial would be the appropriate word,rather it seems ignoring the question/facts by refusing to publish them and hoping nobody will continue to ask for answers seems to be the tactic.

    I recently wrote to my Prime and asked them "You have not met one of your targets,who do you think has suffered because of this?" I was very surprised to even get an answer and more stunned by the response "The economy has shifted,we have had to reduce staff and our budget,staff training has been reduced as well as Team building,we are no longer in a position to expand our facilities until further contracts are able to be funded" I wrote back and asked "Do you not think that the unemployed/clients have been the most affected?"

    No reply at this time,I am not holding my breath!

  2. There is “no evidence” because the DWP does not wish to find any evidence. Also, looking for any evidence about the usage of food banks is down to the Department for Health, surely, rather than the DWP?

    This issue is one that the politicians would be delighted to kick into the long grass because it reflects so badly on all of the political parties. A long-winded “review” by at least one civil service department would give the grass plenty of time in which to grow before the 2015 General Election.

    I would guess that a minority of workers do like the idea of “zero hours contracts,” which expression is a handy euphemism for “casual labour,” it seems to me. There is no political will to get to grips with this issue, either.

    Vince Cable is not powerful enough for him to be able to deal with this by himself. Also, the Lib-Dems want to bask in reflected popularity. The Tories’ propagandist portrayal of allegedly feckless, dole-bludging scroungers is very popular with the electorate.

    A dissatisfied casual labourer’s best hope is that Cameron will keep his tacit promise of ensuring that the UK stays in the EU, I suspect.

  3. Let's not forget David Freud's typically astute and considered take on food banks - free food leads to unlimited demand:

    He would say that, wouldn't he?

    This is also interesting - relates to the US but the general principles are applicable here too. In terms of economic and income hardship and uncertainty and a consequent impact on aggregate demand, it might be worth mentioning that zero-hour contracts inevitably play a part in this:

    Key quote: "The problem is there is no credible theory that relates starvation with an increased capacity to gain employment when the economy is some millions of jobs short of the level necessary to provide work for all those who desire it."

  4. Zero hr. contracts are part of a continual spiral to the bottom of the barrel! Along with workfare and dodgy 'self employment' contracts.

    On the radio and TV over the past few days, many have spun Zero hr. contracts as 'flexible', the more flexible end of the stick obviously being held by the employer. "They (Zero hr. contracts) fit in around my child care needs" was heard a lot. But what has happened to good ol' part time hours? And how about 'flexi-time" when an employee could negotiate their start and finish times? Is this not flexibility?

    It would appear the for many, Zero hr. is the new part time just as for others workfare is the new probationary period, only without pay.

    Ultimately, this is all self defeating. If a man does not know how much he is going to be earning due to wildly erratic and unpredictable hours, how on Earth is he going to be able to spend as freely as he would otherwise like? If we take Sports Direct for example, I'd wager that many of its staff bought from the shops they work in. Will they be able to do so as much in future?

    Henry Ford knew this as long ago as the 1920's. He quickly realised that if he did not pay his workforce decent wages, they'd not be able to afford the cars his automobile plants produced. Not just good for Ford Motor Co., but the local and wider economies too. Why today's business 'leaders' and government ministers cannot see this is beyond me.

    Or per haps they can and simply don't give a damn as long as it's only short term gains they are interested in!

    1. Very true,as a former Publican,I approached the Pub Co with the very same thoughts"If I can't make a living? How can you?" The response was"We will raise prices" They now have a business worth £130 Million with debts of £3.4 Billion.

  5. The One True Elg10 August 2013 at 03:37

    Ian Duncan Smith knows full well what's happening, it's his job.

    He see's his role as DWP minister as reducing ''welfare dependency''. He knew that if he started poking holes in the social safety net then people are going to fall through. Attacking him for this is pointless because that's what he's there to do even if the department won't brazenly admit it, that's what the Conservative party wants and polls show that's what the public wants.

    All any of this shows is he's doing his job. It's depressing, because from now on it's going to be every DWP ministers job whatever party he's from.

    1. Sadly, The One True Elg I agree with you! This month sees the second anniversary of the England wide riots of 2011. One question that comes up is "could these riots happen again?".

      I for one think they could. One question that has not been asked let alone tackled is why these riots became nation (England) wide. We can talk about the opportunist shoplifting, the use of Blackberry Messaging, Twitter and Facebook. And we can talk of the shooting of Mark Duggan that sparked the initial protest in Tottenham.
      What Cameron, Osborne, Smith and May need to answer is what made so many in the rest of England feel so angry and joined in. What was it that created this 'perfect storm'? I speak as someone living in an area affected by nationwide riots in 1981.

      I fear that this could quite easily and readily happen again due to a lack of hope being expressed by even many younger people. Take away a person's hope and opportunities and they may well feel they've nothing to lose.

  6. Regarding "Zero Hour" Contracts I worked for Amazon UK,at the very least it was gruelling work,it reminded me of the Egyptian slave galleys..Work harder,Work faster,In reality it Sucked,but it was a paycheck(Agency)minimum wage,after working all hours and in different departments I felt that I would be taken on permanent,even after showing up on time and clocking in(30-40 minutes)we were constantly sent home,no pay but still charged £10 per week parking,during a very heavy snow storm I walked in to work and was unable to get by the security gate,,We had all been sacked and were no longer needed.

  7. Sooner or later IDS is going to have to publish sanction data and when he does it will show that sanctions have increased exponentially. But what I REALLY want to know is under what circumstances have people been sanctioned? I believe that this would show that sanctions are being given based on the smallest transgressions.

    I am on the Work Programme and you have to be very, very careful. Every appointment that you are asked to attend you are sent a threatening letter and I quote 'Attendence is mandatory. If you fail to attend your Jobseeker's Allowance will be STOPPED'! I have yet to be sanctioned but am under constant pressure to apply for unsuitable jobs.

    Being on the WP is like being on probation.

    1. Agreed! I,in my youth was on probation and this is much,much more intrusive,but with no solution to the problem,what occurs to me is that the WP was set up to help the unemployed find work through training and professional help to update their qualifications in order to make them Job ready,the problem is has anybody informed the WP of this? On most of the WP websites they talk about Training,but try and pin them down about what is available and it turns into smoke and mirrors.

    2. Well, the previously released data showed a huge spike in mid-2010, and a level that fluctuated but remained high after that. Unfortunately, if and when the new data are released, it presumably won't tell us very much about reasons for sanctions, but just the numbers.

      However, there will be an independent review of sanctions (probably following the WCA review process - an independent reviewer appointed who will put out a call for evidence) which has to report to parliament by April 2014, so there should be an opportunity to put some of the excesses in the public domain.

      Finally, re. being on probation - not sure about the Work Programme itself (taken as a whole), but there are aspects of the Community Action Programme that on the face of it more resemble a community sentence rather than employment support.

  8. Mark Hoban is reported on saying that if you want a job you should treat job searching as a job 40 hours a week. OK there are problems with this how many companies can you really apply for in 40 hours before you start repeating the "gissajob".

    It isnt your fault you cant get a job you can have all the qualification/skills in the world and they mean ABSOLUTELY nothing if employers dont want to hire people.

    If he is saying looking for a job is a job in itself what about training since you arent available for job search job because you are trying to enhance your opportunities then could you be sanctioned for that. If he wants to consider it a "job" does that mean we get days off.

    Zero hour and self employed catalogue deliverers they rely on insecurity It wouldnt be so bad if you had a partner who was working full time, but when you have just one wage earner who doesnt know if tomorrow he/she can afford to eat then how is that going to help people.

    The fact you can do everything right apply for 10-15 jobs a week, read all the local papers, phone agencies, yet if you miss ONE thing you could have a doubt put on you. It is as if that anything else you do they are going to find an excuse to find something wrong. Seen people sanctioned for an adviser not putting down on the system they have been seen this is why I ALWAYS get my adviser to sign my job search print list..

    Took mine in on friday with copies of ALL my emails and she was shocked and said that is a LOT of jobs I do it because it sounds bad but I dont trust them

    1. I thought you are allowed up to 16 hours a week study before your benefit is affected or has that changed in the last three years?

      If so then are you still expected to do 40 hours job search?

    2. Anybody on a zero hours contract ought to be entitled to any Housing/Council Tax Benefit for the days without work. Income Support used to be paid in simillar circumstances and might encourage people to take up these contracts as it acts as a safety net. Job search and work-related activities could be part of the entitlement to benefit and done for a few hours on the days without work.

    3. Anonymous11 August 2013 07:58 that will cause so many more problems, Imagine people contacting the job centres every day to claim income support, in addition the one week waiting period planned. These contracts DO no good for people they do not know from one day to the next if they are getting any money How will adding more paperwork more more hassle help people who want to work.

      Entitled to the days without work that means they will have to tell them every day sorry i havent got work today so I need money then tomorrow I have work for 2 hours so I dont day after no work more paperwork more chaos.. Zero Hours are not there to help people they are there to help employers

    4. Zero Hours Contracts are here for the time-being, if (and it's a very big if) Universal Credit works the system would be able to calculate benefit entitlement which let us not forget would be paid a month in arrears. There would be little paper-work as UC would check what you earned and pay any HB and CTB too.


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