Confusion over ‘part-timers’

I half-listened to an episode of Money Box yesterday, on part-timers.  What a total guddle.  Even if I had given it my full attention as the very experienced and articulate panel explained points of tax and benefit to people who work in all kinds of untidy formats – several contracts with the same employer, repeated contracts, zero hours etc – I would have been a long long way from grasping how the system works.

The relief and gratitude from some of those who had phoned and got answers to their specific problems were palpable.  They had clearly experienced frustration  in the face of an overwhelmingly complex set of ‘rules’.  Just one example of incoherence: one woman had three part-time jobs, but none of them paid enough to take her over the NI threshold, so she qualifies for none of the benefits that that brings – despite paying tax on all of them.  There was, sadly, no solution for her.

What is very clear is that we treat part-time workers as somehow qualitatively different.  The system does not need to take them seriously – in fact it doesn’t have to behave as a system at all when it comes to them.  And yet, more and more people are working part-time, some because they cannot get a full-time job, others because of family or other obligations or through choice.  Whichever category they fall into, they represent not just increasing numbers, but increasing numbers of increasingly qualified people, most of them women. Most of those calling in were women, but not all; the first caller was a man inquiring about his status as a supply teacher.

For an idea of the significance of this, see also a strong piece about low-paid workers, by Shiv Malik in the Guardian, and related items in Progress by two MPs,  Alison McGovern and Lucy Rigby.

So I have two questions:

a. when will the tax and benefits ‘system’ take part-timers seriously?

b. how can we improve our current definition(s) of ‘part-time’?

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