No, Iain Duncan Smith, the problem of zero hour contracts isn't their name

Mon, 20/04/2015 - 13:50 -- nick

The current Conservative-led government has shown a lack of understanding of most of the issues facing those on a low income, whether working or workless.

Their focus going into May's election is clearly on finding ways of justifying proposals which are designed to favour the rich in a way that sounds superficially reasonable to the kind of voters that would actually lose out through them.

So if the Tories win those with houses worth £1 million will see no inheritance tax payments, a huge rise from the current £350,000 threshold and the very definition of a millionaire's tax break.

Their justification? It will help end “the unfairness of a tax that has crept up on countless ordinary families”, despite favouring only the very richest few percent in the country.

We see the same kind of thinking in the hated Iain Duncan Smith's latest wheeze on zero hour contracts.

There are many issues with these, from the fact that they don't guarantee an income for those who have guaranteed bills, to the problem that their holders are counted as employed when they might not be, sanctions for unemployed people who refuse to take them because of the lack of income and the exclusivity issue, which prevents some from looking for other work even where they haven't been given any hours for months.

We can surely all agree, though, that the main issue isn't what they are called.

Smith disagrees; in an interview with the BBC on Friday he proposed renaming them 'flexible contracts' to overcome their negative image.

This is a pathetic response to a growing problem - the number working under this arrangement has tripled since his government came to power in 2010 to 700,000.

Whatever they are called they still carry all the problems above, and lack many of the basic employment rights a civilised society demands, including sick pay and maternity pay.

There are very restricted circumstances where they may be the right choice, but the vast majority who work under them are in low-paid sectors like retail, hospitality and care work, and zero hour contracts are usually a way of restricting their income further.

The huge problems of these arrangements, and their rapid growth, mean any serious government should be legislating to end them in most circumstances.

The Tories' belief that we can be bought off by a new name shows the contempt they have for those at the bottom of the pile.