New analysis shows that one in three people who have been shielding and who work (32%) have said they are not at all comfortable with the idea of working outside their home . The Government has officially paused its support for people who have been shielding and now expects them to go back to work. This means that if they can’t work from home, they could be forced to risk their health by returning to their workplace.
Many shielding and high-risk workers have had no choice but to go back to work but many have grave concerns that their workplaces just aren’t safe enough. With Covid-19 cases rising again, there is significant worry that thousands of workers will be forced to choose between their job and their health.
According to estimates by the Office for National Statistics, 48,000 shielders who usually work say that they will return to working outside their home within the next four months, despite feeling uncomfortable about it.
In March the Government asked around 623,000 people who had been in work to stay at home and ‘shield’ from the Coronavirus. One in three (33%) of them – over 200,000 people – were furloughed and could not work from home . The Government has now lifted shielding restrictions in most places, with many having to return to work despite being at heightened risk. The job retention scheme has been vital in supporting them through the crisis but they are now at risk of losing their jobs and income unless the Government intervenes. Previous research from Citizens Advice suggests 1 in 2 people who are extremely clinically vulnerable to Coronavirus (48%) are facing redundancy .
We are part of a coalition of 11 charities, calling on the Government to bring in a furlough-style scheme for shielding or high-risk workers who cannot safely return to work, otherwise it is feared many will lose their jobs. Thousands have already signed a petition to extend the furlough beyond August for those who are shielding or high-risk and cannot safely return to work, supporting the notion that no one should have to choose between their job and their health.
The charities, including Age UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, and Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation are calling for a new scheme, to be funded by central Government, for people who are deemed medically vulnerable and unable to return to their workplace safely by a clinical practitioner. Introducing this scheme would mean that workers will have a job to return to and employers are not left to carry the wage bill. This targeted intervention for a relatively small but highly vulnerable group is the best way for the Government to protect the people of all ages who have played such an important part in beating back the virus and protecting the NHS.
This latest move comes after a letter was sent to the Chancellor at the end of July asking him to protect the jobs of workers who have been shielding, or who are at high-risk from Covid-19 – when workplace restrictions eased from 1 August. In the letter, the coalition called for the Government to continue to provide financial support for those whose occupations cannot be carried out from home or whose organisations cannot make their workplace safe enough for them to return to work..
The charities have also expressed concern that employers will be expected to meet the costs associated with supporting their employees who are at a higher risk of Coronavirus, a financial burden many can ill afford because of the economic downturn. While it is understood that many employers want to do the ‘right thing’ and help their employees who are in-need, they may not be able to afford to do so as there is no clear end date to this situation. The Government, says the coalition, must therefore meet the cost in full.
In addition, there are calls on the Government to ensure workplaces are ‘Covid-secure’ by improving the health and safety inspection regime and ensuring employers follow the guidance. 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, and enforce duties where necessary.
There are around 65,000 people in the UK right now who are either on dialysis or have had a kidney transplant who should not be put in the position of having to choose between their lives and their livelihoods. No-one should be forced to go to a workplace that they do not feel is safe, so putting in place some employment protection to support them would make a huge difference. For those where it’s simply impossible to return at this time, an extension to the furlough scheme would ensure that they are not in a position where they feel their home may be at risk.Fiona Loud Policy Director at Kidney Care UK
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