BUSINESSES should be forced to prove their staff are happy before they are awarded Government contracts, a West Midlands MP and former Minister has claimed.

Single mothers should also be told to find work when their children are as young as two years old, according to James Plaskitt (Lab Warwick & Leamington).

The former pensions minister led a review of Britain’s welfare system for think-tank Progress, a Labour organisation backed by the Blairite wing of the party including former Health Secretary Alan Milburn. It concluded that firms bidding for lucrative Government contracts should reveal the results of staff surveys, which show whether employees feel they are fairly treated and receive sufficient training.

The Government could also demand to see how many staff have taken stick leave – often seen as a measure of working conditions – and the results of recent health and safety inspections.

Billions of pounds each year are spent by Government departments, employing private contractors on anything from installing new computer systems to constructing schools and hospitals.

The paper, called “Making Welfare Work for Social Justice”, said: “If government is serious about improving job quality then it should only do business with organisations that offer quality jobs. There is no reason why public sector organisations should not ask suppliers about general health and safety performance, levels of sickness absence or the results of the most recent staff survey.”

The study called on ministers to go further in pressuring single parents who are dependent on benefits to find work. James Purnell, the Welfare Secretary, has announced plans to cut benefits for single parents who refuse to look for a job once their youngest child is seven. But the Progress paper suggests that they should begin work when their child is two.

It said: “The government should consider placing work-finding conditions on lone parents after their child reaches the age of two. The money saved from the benefit should be reinvested along with increased government funding to provide universal childcare and increased maternity leave payments.”