When work doesn’t pay – MPs reveal link between zero-hours contracts and food banks

15 Jul 2019

Heidi Allen MP and Frank Field MP are presenting to Parliament a bill which offers guaranteed weekly hours to workers on zero-hours contracts.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by a cross-party group of 23 MPs, is accompanied by evidence being published today by Feeding Britain, a charity set up by MPs and Peers to counter hunger in this country, which reveals a troubling link between zero-hours contracts and the need for food banks.

Among the testimonies received by Feeding Britain were:

- “Zero-hour contracts are no good to anybody. You need at least 40 hours a week to be able to fend for yourself and pay the bills. My universal credit payments were different each month and I could not keep up with the bills. I had to use foodbanks and got into arrears with both my rent and my council tax. I am better off not working than working in this way.”
- “A single parent works in a care job that cannot guarantee her hours. She is paid weekly, variable amounts, oftentimes just one shift in a week, and claims Universal Credit alongside. She can never predict how much UC will be paid to her, so cannot budget for her rent, utilities and food, and relies on food banks to supplement her low earned income, whilst she waits for UC payments to ensure she has enough to pay her rent.”
- “As part of my role I help to signpost people in need of food to appropriate provision. One lady asked for a food parcel for her and her 2 children. She had a zero-hours contract as a cleaner, had been ill for 2 weeks and so had no money coming in and no food left in the house.”
- “I have been employed on a ZHC for over 12 months. I am frequently using food banks as I am unsure of the working hours I will get each week and am unable to forecast financially. I am depressed and feel low all of the time. I feel like my boss holds all of the power and uses me to suit his own schedule. He is not consistent and does not give shifts out every week. My boss is also my landlord which has a further negative impact.”
- “I have spoken to many young people who are on a zero-hours contract and they reported it being awful. One young male paid £4.20 to travel to work for a 6 hour shift and was told to go home after three hours as the restaurant was not busy. He had to literally wait by the phone for shifts and had no reliable income. He felt used and couldn’t get out of the situation as he required what little money he could get.”
- “I worked 24 hours; two 12 hour shifts per week. I would have to wait for a text on the Wednesday night to tell me if I would be working on the Thursday. I needed to be up at 4am to get into work for a 6am start, I rode there on my push bike. I would then find out on the Thursday if I was working on the Friday. I would get home by 7pm exhausted, ready to do it again the next day. I was always anxious waiting on the Wednesday for that text. I could not plan anything as I was waiting around. I arrived for my shift on a couple of occasions to be told I was not on the list even though I had been text the night before. I am 61 years old and I was taking shifts even though my health at times was not good, but I could not turn work down as I was worried I wouldn’t be offered anymore shifts. This did eventually happen. I do not work for the company anymore.”

Heidi comments: ‘There is a place for zero-hours contracts in our labour market, especially for people who only want a couple of hours’ work each week or are working flexibly on a temporary basis. But many other people, who rely on earnings from zero-hours contracts, now feel trapped in a life of insecurity and precariousness which all too often means they need to seek help from food banks. That’s why Frank and I are trying to give them a legal right to guaranteed minimum hours, if they want them, so that nobody has to feel trapped by their working arrangements.’

Frank adds: ‘This bill would immediately cut off one of the main supply routes to hunger and destitution. What a growing number of food banks and social supermarkets tell us is that workers on zero-hours contracts are short of money at different times of the month, because their income falls way below what they need to pay the rent as well as all of the other bills coming their way. It is impossible for workers to budget or plan ahead when their hours and earnings are so volatile. We need the new Prime Minister to offer greater legal protection to these workers by giving them the right to a more secure contract.’

A copy of Feeding Britain’s working paper, ‘When Work Doesn’t Pay’, can be found here.

The Employment (Minimum Hours) Bill is being presented by Heidi, along with Frank, Ruth George MP, Ruth Smeeth MP, Justin Madders MP, Emma Lewell-Buck MP, Rosie Duffield MP, Anna Turley MP, Martyn Day MP, Kerry McCarthy MP, Madeleine Moon MP, Jeremy Lefroy MP, John Mann MP, Graham Stringer MP, Ian Austin MP, Ronnie Campbell MP, Ivan Lewis MP, Kelvin Hopkins MP, Daniel Zeichner MP, Stephen Lloyd MP, Emma Hardy MP, Roger Godsiff MP, and Kate Green MP.