MP to intervene in benefit row

An MP has intervened in the dispute over observant Jews being denied jobseekers allowance because they refuse to work on Shabbat.

In June, a Charedi man won a landmark appeal against the Department for Work and Pensions after he was told by a job centre in Prestwich, north Manchester, that he was not eligible for the allowance.

The decision was believed to herald an end to the practice, but fears were raised that job centre staff in the north-west of England were still denying the benefit to Shabbat-observant Jews.

Now Bury South MP Ivan Lewis says he will discuss the issue with senior job centre managers in the north-west over the issue.

He will also seek assurances from the Department for Work and Pensions that national guidelines ensuring Jews can claim the benefit unhindered by their Shabbat observance will be issued to job centre staff.

The DWP has said it will issue the guidelines but has not yet done so.

Mr Lewis’s constituency includes the Prestwich job centre, which has been the focus of complaints from Jews.

The MP described the treatment received by some Jews from staff there as “nothing short of disgraceful”.

“Honest common sense is not being applied and there is no justification for discriminating against Jewish claimants because of their religious beliefs. It’s contrary to everything this country believes in terms of religious freedom,” he said.

Manchester’s Jewish employment support charity JCom said that, in the past two weeks, it had been contacted by over a dozen Jews with complaints about their treatment when they applied for the allowance.

However, senior job centre managers told JCom this week that they are not changing their policy, which, they said, places the onus on Jews to prove that Shabbat observance did not make them unavailable for work.

This appears to run contrary to statements from the DWP, which said: “In order to qualify for jobseekers allowance claimants must be looking for work, and available for 35 hours per week. There is no requirement about what days of the week these hours should fall on.

“No Jobcentre Plus or decision-making office should, under any circumstances, expect a claimant to compromise their religious practices in order to claim JSA.
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Last updated: 4:45pm, August 1 2013