Boris Johnson has been slammed for refusing to delay the end of ‘shielding’ support for millions people at higher risk of Coronavirus.
The Prime Minister today announced a raft lockdown-easing measures due to take effect tomorrow would be postponed.
But the plan to end help for people at increased risk from Covid-19 will still go ahead – despite charities branding the move “desperately unfair.”
Extremely clinically vulnerable people who have stayed at home to protect themselves from Covid-19 are allowed to return to work from tomorrow.
In an open letter to Rishi Sunak signed by 15 charities, including Age UK and Macmillan Cancer Support, raises concerns that those who have been shielding will be forced to choose between their health and their job.
Around 595,000 of the 2.2 million ‘shielding’ people in England usually work, according to the charities.
Phillip Anderson, Head of Policy at the MS Society, says: “More than 130,000 of us live with MS in the UK, and many are incredibly anxious about leaving home for the first time in months to return to a workplace that may be unsafe. Our MS Helpline has already seen an increase in calls from people afraid they are more likely to lose their jobs because of their condition.
“Vulnerable people should not be forced to choose between their health and their livelihoods, and the Government must offer reassurance and protection to those at risk. From ensuring employers abide by the guidance to make workplaces safe, to providing the cost of taxis through the Access to Work Scheme and extending furlough beyond August for those who can’t safely return to work –those at risk must not be forgotten.”
The letter says: “Our concern is that, especially as your furlough arrangements start to unwind and the shielding scheme is paused from next week, some of these workers will find themselves in an impossible position.
“This is because if their occupation is one which they cannot carry out from home, and if it is extremely difficult to make their workplace safe for them, they may be forced to choose between putting their health on the line by returning, or staying safe by giving up their job.”
The signatories say this is “desperately unfair” for those who have made “great sacrifices” by staying at home, and call on the Chancellor to take action and protect their jobs as well as supporting employers.
Labour ’s Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham also called on the government to extend support for ‘shielding’ people at increased risk from Covid-19 until the local restrictions are eased again.
The shielding point I think is tremendously important. It cannot feel right for someone being at home today who’s been shielding for months, to hear that new restrictions are coming in in Greater Manchester and to fear what that might mean – and then to hear that ‘oh, your support is about to be withdrawn and you have to go out to the shops to get your own.’
“Clearly the government must be able to see that there is a mismatch in that messaging that will cause real anxiety in people’s minds.”
In a message to ministers he said: “I’m doing my best to work in partnership with you, but you need to listen as well when we say things that we need.
“And we think we need more support for people in this position – and that the support should be extended for people in this position.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It would be heartless and reckless for employers to demand the immediate return of shielding workers.
“After self-isolation for a number of months, requiring shielding workers to immediately travel to workplaces may cause anxiety and distress.
“We all want people to return to workplaces as soon as possible. But the virus remains a threat to shielding workers.”
She added: “The government must make clear to employers that they cannot give shielding workers unreasonable ultimatums to return to workplaces.
“The job retention scheme is in place until at least October, so employers must continue using it if home working is not an option.
“And the government should make clear that furlough will still be an option after October for shielding workers who cannot safely travel to workplaces or who may be subject to a local lockdown.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We understand how challenging the outbreak pandemic has been for the clinically vulnerable and we have worked tirelessly to support them.
“Employers must ensure the safety of those with such conditions when considering working arrangements, including whether work can be completed remotely.
“Our wide-ranging support package worth an initial £160 billion includes the furlough scheme, which has paid the wages of 9.5 million people and has already been extended until October, loans, grants, and tax cuts and deferrals.
“People will also now benefit from the Job Retention Bonus which will support business and protect jobs. We also announced £750 million for charities so they can continue their important work, ensuring those on the front line are able to reach people who need help.”