Government issues new Shabbat guidelines in benefits row

EXCLUSIVE


An internal memo entitled The Jewish Sabbath has been distributed to Jobcentres (Photo: J J Ellison)

An internal memo entitled The Jewish Sabbath has been distributed to Jobcentres (Photo: J J Ellison)

The Department for Work and Pensions has issued special “Shabbat” guidelines to ensure observant Jews are not denied benefit for refusing to work on Saturdays.

An internal memo entitled The Jewish Sabbath, seen by the JC, has been distributed to Jobcentres across the country.

It tells staff that the laws and customs of the “Jewish holy day” include “resting from work.”

The move follows a string of cases in which Jobcentre managers in Manchester refused to grant job seekers allowance to Jews, who, they said, had no “reasonable prospects” of getting work while maintaining their religious Shabbat observance.

A campaign led by Bury MP Ivan Lewis, the Manchester-baseed JCom employment charity, and the JC highlighted the issue. Some of the claimants were reimbursed thousands of pounds of denied benefits on appeal.

The new guidance invites Jobcentre advisers to find out more about Shabbat via the United Synagogue website.

It adds: “If a Jewish JSA claimant objects to working on the Sabbath, they can restrict their pattern of availability to take into account this objection, as long as they are available for at least 40 hours per week.”

In a statement the DWP said:“We have always been clear that we do not discriminate against religious beliefs and have clarified our guidance to advisers to ensure this.”

JCom founder Norman Younger said his charity was proud to have helped ensure “a level playing field in mainstream support services”.

Mr Lewis said the guidance was a significant step forward to make discrimination against Jews less likely.

“However there are outstanding issues, such as the status of Jewish festivals.

“A short period of consultation with the community before final guidance is published would be very welcome,” he said.

Last updated: 11:42am, February 13 2014