Call for furlough scheme to be extended for shielded and high-risk workers

By agency reporter
July 7, 2020

The TUC has joined a coalition of charities including Age UK and National Voices to call on the government to extend the furlough scheme for shielding and high-risk workers. 

In March, the government asked around 627,000 people who had been in work to stay at home and ‘shield’ from the coronavirus. One in three (31 per cent) of them – nearly 200,000 people – were furloughed and could not work from home. 

The government has now said that shielding restrictions will be lifted across parts of the country from 1 August 2020, with many having to return to work despite being at heightened risk. 

But a new TUC report reveals that tens of thousands of people, especially older and disabled workers and those living with ill health, may not be able to go back to work safely, because they still face a high risk from coronavirus. The report also sets out that localised outbreaks are likely to lead to reinstatement of shielding restrictions in the future, again leaving shielded workers unable to attend work outside the home.  

The job retention scheme has been vital in supporting workers and families during this crisis. But the TUC report warns that many with childcare or wider caring responsibilities also lack the support they need to get back to work. People in this situation are at risk of losing their jobs and income without an extension of the furlough scheme, says the TUC. 

And the report calls on the government to support workers who find themselves in an area that is under local lockdown and unable to work, with access to the furlough scheme for the length of time the lockdown is in place. 

In addition to the furlough scheme extensions, the TUC is calling on the government to: 

  • Make access to support easier for high-risk workers: Those at heightened risk of Covid-19 should be able to rely on a note from their GP or clinician to show their employer that they qualify for furlough. 
  • Ensure workers who continue to work from home have appropriate support: Working spaces at home should be adapted to enable people at high risk to work from home. The TUC says a one-off payment from government-funded scheme Access to Work should be made available to facilitate this. 
  • Guaranteed flexible working: All staff should have the right to work flexibly from their first day in the job. Disabled workers, carers and those with health conditions who were able to work flexibly during the crisis should be able to do so permanently. 
  • Ensure our parental leave is fit for purpose: Give all workers, regardless of their employment status, a day one right to 10 days paid parental leave. 

The TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Many people who have been shielding from Covid-19 won’t be able to return to work yet because the virus continues to pose a threat to their lives – or the lives of those they live with. 

“Tens of thousands of people risk being forced out of their jobs after 1 August if the job retention scheme is not extended and their workplaces cannot be made safe.  

“Many others will be stopped from returning to work because of their caring responsibilities, like working mums without childcare. And people unable to work from home during ‘local lockdowns’ must not be forced to risk exposure to the virus to feed, clothe and house themselves and their family. 

“Ministers can’t stand by and let these people lose their jobs and livelihoods. The priority now is stopping the misery of unemployment – and making sure people who can’t work through no fault of their own do not lose everything they’ve worked so hard for.” 

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: "People who have been shielding have made great sacrifices over the last few months to protect themselves, their families and the NHS, and it would be hugely unfair if they lost their jobs as a result. 

“But this is a real fear now, especially for older workers who had been banking on keeping working to fund their retirements. 

“For the sake of employers as well as their staff, we call on the Government to keep furlough going beyond August at the current 80 per cent level for workers who have been shielding, if it is too early for them to return safely to work. These shielders have supported all of us by keeping themselves safe from the virus, now it's time for us to reciprocate by helping to protect their jobs." 

Charlotte Augst, Chief Executive of National Voices, said: “Through working with people who are shielding, and our 160 member charities, we know how worried people who are very vulnerable to the virus are about their safety. Those who are working are keen to do their jobs, but not all workplaces and jobs can be made safe from Covid.  

“We need to make sure that this virus doesn’t cost this relatively small group of vulnerable people their jobs and livelihoods. This crisis has taught us, if we needed reminding, that the sign of a civilised society is how well we support those who are the most vulnerable. The UK can afford to do so.” 

The charities making the joint call are: Age UK, Carers UK, Parkinson’s UK, National Voices, Ovarian Cancer Action, Muscular Dystrophy UK, Kidney Care UK, Macmillan, Alzheimer’s Society, Diabetes UK, and the MS Society. 

* Read the report here

* Trades Union Congress https://www.tuc.org.uk/

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