Ultra-flexible work system, which allows people to sell their labour in small blocks of time, is placed at the heart of the government's welfare reforms
Disabled people and lone parents face further upheaval to their benefits as an "ultra-flexible" work system, which allows people to sell their labour in small blocks of time, is placed at the heart of the government's welfare reforms.
Lord Freud and Maria Miller, the welfare ministers, are examining changes to benefit rules to allow people to sign up for work for as little as two hours a week under the slivers of time initiative.
The government's decision to throw its weight behind the pioneering system comes as Tesco announces it is to throw open a slivers of time scheme to its 340,000-strong workforce. From today, any Tesco employee will be able to sign up for overtime for modest or longer periods of time at their workplace or at any Tesco store in their area.
Slivers of time, a social enterprise founded by the former BBC producer Wingham Rowan, is designed to tap into the pool of people who cannot work the usual hours expected even of the average part-time employee. It is aimed at parents with young children, disabled people who may not be available for work for most of the week, people who care for a dependent adult or the long-term unemployed who want to ease slowly back into work.
"There are millions of people who need to work in a fragmented way," Rowan said. "Some of these people are real assets but they can be excluded from the labour market."
The government is keen to incorporate the slivers of time system into the new universal credit, the centrepiece of the welfare reforms unveiled last week by Iain Duncan Smith. Freud and Miller want to pilot the system for disabled and lone parents at jobcentres across Britain from next April with a view to rolling it into the running of the universal credit from 2013.
Its proponents claim the reform would mean that a disabled or lone parent would be able to book a few hours of work a week on their terms. Ministers believe current rules would have to be changed because the system has implications for the "earnings disregard" – the process by which benefits are reduced once earnings reach a certain level.
Duncan Smith's welfare reform white paper, unveiled last week, proposes that the "earnings disregard" for a lone parent should increase to £5,000 and to £7,500 for a disabled household once the universal credit system is introduced. Different rules will have to be drawn up for workers using the slivers of time system because the figures in the white paper are for annual earnings.
Freud said : "The current benefits system and lack of flexibility has encouraged people to stay on benefits rather than take on a job. The principle of slivers of time – and schemes like it – represent a great way for people to build up mini-jobs in the official economy. It shows why our radical reform of the benefit system is so vital." The coalition's interest in the system marks a departure from the last government.
John Prescott's department funded research into the complex technology for the system, which runs personal diaries as well as constructing pay rates and assessing the impact on benefits.
But the system stalled after a critical report by Department for Work and Pension officials commissioned by Margaret Hodge, the former Labour welfare minister. This said that the government's focus was to place people into jobs rather than finding random hours of work.The "Slivers-of-Time" initiative is being championed within government by Eric Pickles, the communities secretary. He works with Stephen Greenhalgh, the Tory leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, which introduced the "Slivers-of-Time" system a few years ago.
"We have got thousands of people into work in jobs such as passenger transport," Greenhalgh said. "We are in a part of London with many people on out of work benefits. A small amount of work is better than work and this helps put people back on the work ladder."
The involvement of local councils is essential to the success of the system. The DWP is wary of providing financial support on the grounds that the government's contribution is to provide labour through job centres.
Wingham said: "There is no issue with the supply of Labour. The issue is catalyst employers and that is where local authorities come in."
Arnie Herrema, head of Tesco's flexibility programme, said: "Our new system will allow staff to define any hours they want to be available for overtime. This could be later today, tomorrow or up to six weeks ahead."
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016