Back to work during pandemic:  UK charities ask government to protect jobs of critically vulnerable workers

  • Aug 01, 2020 BST
  • Team Kalkine
Back to work during pandemic:  UK charities ask government to protect jobs of critically vulnerable workers

Summary

  • Charities urge the government to protect jobs of critically vulnerable workforce.
  • Given the fear of unsafe working environment and chances of catching infection, these people will have to choose between two tough choices of either letting go the health concerns or losing their jobs.
  • Employers such as the supported businesses, social firms, and some social enterprises have a considerable section of their workforce that comprise of such workers and disabled people, among others.
  • Critically vulnerable have been allowed to attend work from 1 August 2020.
  • Experts suggest that the government needs to come out with a targeted support scheme for the critically vulnerable.

Among the various steps to revive the economy by lifting stay at home orders imposed during the coronavirus induced lockdown, the workers in the UK are being encourages to gradually resume their jobs by going back to offices. In this regard, a special category of people from England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, who are supposedly known as extremely critically vulnerable have been allowed to attend work from 1 August 2020. This segment of people has been staying at home to protect them from catching the Covid-19 infection. It would be difficult for many of them to re-join the workforce as restrictions are lifted amid the fear of unsafe working environment and risk of catching the coronavirus infection. They will have to choose between two tough choices of either letting go the health concerns or losing their jobs.  

In addition to difficulties for the critically vulnerable people, the lifting of restrictions is seen as a problem for the businesses or organisations that are known to have a considerable section of their workforce comprising of such workers and disabled people, among others. Some such employers include the supported businesses, social firms, and few social enterprises which may not be able to immediately start their commercial operations with speed.

Though it makes sense to bring in the necessary changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, it is the time to contemplate on the needs of the critically vulnerable people or those who are shielding themselves from infections. At the same time, this might result in delays to revive the businesses already stressed with substantial financial losses and potentially lead to closures of their units, besides cutting jobs. So, a very fine balance is required at this stage.

Given the continued risk of catching the infection, the shielding workers will be forced to choose between safeguarding their health and their jobs. According to an estimate, England alone has over two million people who are considered as extremely vulnerable to coronavirus and are shielding at present. The charities said that out of these, approximately 595,000 would usually be going to their workplaces.

Key points of the letter that the charities sent to the Treasury

Emphasising on the future outcome of losses seen in these specialised businesses, the letter dated 15 May 2020, which was sent to the UK Treasury by a group of charities with a plea to protect jobs of the critically vulnerable or shielding workforce, said that it would be tough for both the existing employees and thousands of future employees to re-enter employment. As a fallout, there would be considerable long-term cost to the taxpayers.

The letter stressed that in such a case, all the necessary interventions taken by the government to keep people safe and make businesses sustainable would be lost. The signatories had requested for an assurance from the government to have a discussion with the employers of critically vulnerable workers before announcing any changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This consultation will assist to provide a clear picture of the implications of the reforms in the scheme and ascertain that employment is protected wherever possible. The charities suggested that the government should increase the furlough scheme for those who have been shielding or are at high-risk.

Remarks from the Treasury

Stressing on the fact that the UK Treasury has intervened in the right direction to offer required support, it understands the coronavirus-led pandemic has been especially challenging for the critically vulnerable workforce, remarked a spokesperson. The department asked the employers to ensure the safety of this segment of their workforce in finalising working arrangements and the focus should rest on work from home arrangements.

The guidance issued by the government mentioned that if it is mandatory to be present at the workstation, then a possible change in role should be considered so that they could work from home in order to save their jobs. In case the businesses or employers cannot provide a safe working environment, the segment of critically vulnerable workers can avail financial support including statutory sick pay and welfare payments. The Treasury had announced a fund of £750 million for charities to facilitate them in carrying out their important work as they provide their services on the front line and should continue reaching out to people who need help. 

Some general key steps taken by the government 

In order to help the business come out of the financial crisis and job cuts induced by the lockdown that lasted for almost three months in 2020, the 

government has encouraged people to return to work. However, the government has presented industry specific guidelines to maintain social distancing and sanitisation rules to restrict any further spread of the infection. Earlier, to support both the businesses and self-employed people, the government had announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to claim wages for employees on temporary leave or furlough in the wake of the pandemic. This scheme is scheduled to last till end October 2020 and approximately 9.4 million people in the UK are availing its benefits at a total cost of £31.7 billion to the Treasury. In addition, on 8 July 2020, the UK government launched the Job Retention Bonus scheme.

Conclusion

As the UK gears to reopen its jobs market to help revive the economy, the country is still seeing news of job loss, pay cuts, and financial losses from several big and small companies across various industries on a daily basis. While it is important to re-join jobs to meet one’s expenses and liabilities, the fear of infections loom around with the uncertainties regarding a completely safe and secure means of public transport and workplace. Several experts and industry insiders agree that the government needs to come out with a targeted support scheme for critically vulnerable people who are unable to return to a safe work environment.                                                                                                                                           

 


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