A Tory minister has been slammed for suggesting disabled people can fall on to benefits if bosses fail to make their workplace safe.
A charity branded Jesse Norman’s comment “alarming” after he was asked about those with cancer and immune disorders.
Disabled people or the vulnerable, who can’t work from home, have been told they can return to workplaces after ‘shielding’ ended.
But with coronavirus cases rising, a YouGov survey earlier this month found just 14% felt safe doing so.
Treasury minister Mr Norman was asked how he would save people with immune conditions, many of whom are still at home, from financial risk when furlough ends on October 31.
He replied they can go to their workplace if it is Covid-secure – but if it is not, disabled workers could claim Universal Credit.
Jonathan Blades of the MS Society said: “The minister’s comments are incredibly alarming.
“They suggest vulnerable people, including those living with MS, are expected to make the impossible choice between protecting their health and their livelihoods when furlough ends.”
Mr Norman made his comments in a written parliamentary answer on September 16.
Labour MP Barry Sheerman asked “what steps he is taking” to ensure people with immune disorders do not face financial uncertainty.
The minister said “clinically extremely vulnerable” (CEV) people are currently supported by the furlough scheme until October 31.
He added: “If they are unable to work from home, they are able to return to work, provided their workplace is COVID-safe.
“If employers cannot provide a safe working environment, the CEV will continue to have access to an unprecedented package of financial support including an increase in the generosity of welfare payments worth a further £9.3bn.
“These changes also include a £20 per week increase to the Universal Credit (UC) standard allowance and Working Tax Credit basic element, and a nearly £1 billion increase in support for renters through increases to the Local Housing Allowance rates for UC and Housing Benefit claimants.”
It came as charities voiced dismay at the Chancellor’s new scheme to subsidise “viable” jobs when furlough ends on October 31.
Those who return to work on ‘short hours’ will have up to 22% of their wages subsidised by the government until April.
But in order to qualify, workers must go back to doing at least a third of their usual hours.
But James Taylor of Scope claimed the scheme could “force” disabled people “to choose between their health and their wages” if they don’t want to return to the workplace.
He added: ”We know that without intervention and support from Government and employers this could lead to many disabled people losing their jobs.”
A Treasury spokesman declined to comment further.