13 May 2016
New research from the University of York into the recent Universal Credit (UC) pilot has found the benefit regime has a negative impact on claimants and does not succeed at helping people increase their income.
The study followed 58 recipients of UC, one third of whom were in paid work, and found the system is currently too inflexible to help those attempting to increase their hours.
Financial sanctions that left people in dire financial and emotional straits were in some cases imposed due to no fault of the claimant, such as due to administrative errors. Meanwhile, in-work claimants found it difficult to juggle the flexibility expected by their employers and the rigid structure of their JobCentre appointments.
There was also a worrying trend towards surveillance, with Job Advisers able to monitor claimants job search activity online. Many claimants were not aware that they had the option to refuse this surveillance, and there were accounts of Job Advisors complaining to claimants when surveillance had been refused.
In our publication Re-Regulating Zero Hour Contracts, authors Zoe Adams and Professor Simon Deakin warned that the introduction of UC could lead to an increase in casualised labour, thereby disincentivising employers from creating quality roles. This could lead to workers being trapped into low-wage positions with few opportunities for progression and training, and result in a lower skilled workforce.
Indeed, the evidence from the University of York’s report appears to support this argument, with claimants stating that they were being forced to apply for roles that did not tally with their experience or skills – including one construction professional who was told to apply for an administrative role in a library.
Elsewhere, some claimants who wished to undergo training in order to find suitable work – for instance, through volunteering – were unable to without being sanctioned.
Re-Regulating Zero Hour Contracts examines how employers are providing less and less stability for workers and demonstrated how the new UC programme will further entrench this culture. The authors foresee more claimants feeling pressured to accept zero-hour contracts when UC is introduced, which could lead to an upswing in the number of employers able to rely on these casualised roles in the future. As well as having a detrimental effect on workers’ access to employment rights, the authors warn warn that this trend could have a long-term effect on productivity in the UK, further weakening our economy’s resilience to future global downturns.
As we approach the wider introduction of UC across the UK, you can now pick up a copy of Re-Regulating Zero Hour Contracts for just £10.
Re-regulating Zero Hours Contracts
By Zoe Adams and Professor Simon Deakin
ZHCs are highly profitable for employers, but lead to insecurity of income and low pay for workers. The authors point to rigidities in employment law and the operation of the tax-benefit system
as being responsible for the rise in zero hours contracting.