MPs' anger in benefit dispute

An MP has described as farcical the situation facing Jewish job seekers who have been denied benefits for saying they will not work on Shabbat.

Ivan Lewis, Labour member for Bury South, expressed his concern after Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary for Work and Pensions, wrote a letter saying that jobcentres could allow Jews unemployment benefit only if they could prove Shabbat observance did not harm their chances of getting a job.

Mr Lewis and Graham Stringer, Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton, had written to Mr Duncan Smith after Jews in their constituencies were denied the allowance when they told jobcentres that they could not work on Saturdays for religious reasons.

Mr Duncan Smith said that he was confident that “our existing legislation is clear that Jewish claimants must not be discriminated against on the grounds of their religious beliefs”.

In response, Mr Lewis said: “I think the whole thing is a farce. It is absolutely clear these people are being discriminated against and are having their right to practice their religion undermined.”

He added that he would be seeking a meeting with the minister.

In Parliament, Mr Stringer asked Mr Duncan Smith : “How many Jewish people have been denied Jobseeker's Allowance on the basis of their observance of Saturday as the Sabbath”, and received the response, “none”.

But the Manchester employment charity JCom has received numerous complain ts from Jews unhappy at their treatment by jobcentres, which automatically rule that Shabbat observance is “an unreasonable restriction” to getting a job.

Many benefit claimants have lodged official appeals over the issue with Department for Work and Pension offices and one tribunal judge has already ruled in favour of a Jewish man.

Mr Stringer said Mr Duncan Smith's response was unsatisfactory and that he would be pursuing the issue.

“It's completely unacceptable to deny people benefits because they are following their own religion. That's very simple,” he said.

Last updated: 1:42pm, October 18 2013