To fit in with current welfare reforms, the government has been encouraging employers to help jobless people back into work by offering them ‘mini jobs’.

In a recent Whitepaper, the government revealed plans to merge out-of-work benefits and in-work support to create a universal credit.

The intention is to “make work pay” by phasing out support at a consistent rate, so claimants have an incentive to do small amounts of work without losing their benefits and being worse off.

However, few firms currently offer jobs on reduced hours, which is why ministers are backing a social enterprise called “Slivers of Time” which encourages firms to take on workers for only a few hours a week, such as a single four-hour shift.

It has been public sector employers that have shown the most support for this new initiative. Hertfordshire County Council, which uses the system to manage outsourced carer support services. Carers can book a support worker to cover them for a couple of hours at very short notice.

Tim Anfilogoff, head of community well-being at the council, said: “The initiative started at Leeds City Council and was about getting people who could only work a few hours a week back into work.

Anfilogoff said he was excited about the potential of the system. “Could the introduction of universal credits mean more people will want to work in this way? I would have thought so, as it removes the disincentive around benefits, as well as bureaucracy. If the government and Slivers of Time can find a way to do this together, more people are likely to work like this.”

The council is also considering this approach for other workers, such as cleaners and support workers, he added.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said that one of the aims of the white paper was to “remove the distortions in the current system that tend to over-reward people for working a specific number of hours that may not suit them or their employers.”