Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has been clobbered with a string of legal battles over his benefits reforms. Now he is facing a battle from unemployed Jews over jobseeker’s allowance (JSA).
It has been an ongoing saga since the Jewish Chronicle revealed that some jobcentres uphold a policy that Jews who will not work on Shabbat are not trying hard enough to get a job. Jews are then denied JSA and left with little money to live on. Fifteen cases have so far come to light, but there are likely to be many more.
The root of the problem is the law which says benefits claimants must “have reasonable prospects of gaining employment” if they restrict their hours of work for religious reasons. MPs and lawyers say this rule is open to abuse by jobcentres which automatically deny JSA to those who refuse to work on Shabbat, without considering whether they, nonetheless, “have reasonable prospects” of getting of job. It amounts to discrimination. Tens of thousands of Shabbat-observant Jews have jobs in every business sector — Shabbat is clearly no barrier to employment.
The Department for Work and Pensions argues that it simply follows the rules — if you do not work on Saturdays, like everyone else, it can harm your chances of securing a job.
The Jewish Chronicle has reported on cases such as these being won at Tribunal and calls for Ministers to issue guidance to Jobcentres to stop sanctions on these grounds.
Full story in the Jewish Chronicle