I wrote to the Chancellor and the Business Secretary today, following my question last week on extra support for those who are unable to return to working when the shielding scheme ends.
Full text below.
As Shadow Minister for Disabled People, I have been hearing from disabled people and charities in recent weeks who are concerned about the lack of support available to allow high-risk people safely return to work from 1 August when the shielding programme ends.
Following the summer statement on Wednesday 9th July, I asked you to consider extending the full job retention scheme for those who are not able to return to work safely on August 1st. You told me that if I write to you and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (copied) to raise any outstanding concerns, you will be happy to look at them.
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%) of them – nearly 200,000 people – have since been furloughed. The Government has now said that shielding restrictions will be lifted across parts of the country from the 1st August with many expected to return to work despite being at heightened risk.
The medical guidance has said that it is safe for high risk individuals to return to work as long as their employer follows guidance published by the Government to ensure their places of work are COVID-secure and social distancing can be maintained in the workplace. The Government has said that they ‘expect employers to do the right thing’ and take the necessary steps to follow the guidance. However, there will be cases where employers are unable to take the necessary steps to ensure social distancing can be followed in the work place. This may be because employers fail to fully understand the guidance or don’t have the financial resources in order to make these changes in good time to their workplaces. We are also concerned that there is not enforcement requirements on the employer to make these necessary adjustments.
As a result, where it has not been possible for an employer to make the place of work safe in line with Government recommendations, people could have to put their health at risk just to make their ends meet.
That is why, charities representing shielded people, including the MS Society, Age UK, Carers UK, Macmillan, Diabetes UK and National Voices, working alongside the Trade Unions Congress, are making the following recommendations, which I endorse:
- Provide financial and practical support to those who are not able to return to work safely through the Job Retention Scheme or an alternative mechanism. Those at heightened risk of COVID-19 should be able to rely on a note from their GP or clinician to qualify for financial support.
- Further protections for those from the same household or caring responsibilities for a vulnerable person and workers affected by ‘local lockdowns’
- Where Government cannot provide support for businesses to keep their employees on the shielding list at home, it should support them to ensure their workplace is COVID-secure. It should be clearer on what standards employers must follow be ready to enforce penalties where they are failing to meet these obligations.
- Where employers are not fulfilling their legal obligations or following guidance to be COVID-secure, employees must be supported to hold their employers to account, quickly, easily and at no extra-cost to them.
I would like to invite you to discuss these recommendations with me and charities representing extremely vulnerable communities at a time of your earliest convenience before August 1st to discuss what can be done so that no-one feels that they have to risk their health in order to go back to work.
Vicky Foxcroft MP
Shadow Minister for Disabled People