Employment is a big concern for us at Kidney Care UK. Thousands of kidney patients have been shielding for months. These include people who have had transplants, are on dialysis, or who need strong drugs to suppress their immune system. We know from our recent ‘Worried Sick’ survey of more than 1,200 kidney patients that their ability to protect themselves from COVID while being able to work and earn a living is a major cause of anxiety.
To support more people to return to their workplace, we would like to see the legislation that exists in Wales, placing a legal duty on employers to take reasonable measures to maintain social distancing on their premises, extended to the rest of the UK. This offers important safeguards for both clinically vulnerable and the extremely clinically vulnerable patients and will help them get back to work.
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 of them were furloughed and could not work from home. The government has now said that shielding restrictions will be lifted across parts of the country from 1 August with many having to return to work despite being at heightened risk. But a new Trades Union Congress (TUC) report published reveals that tens of thousands of them, especially older workers and those living with ill health or disability, may not be able to go back to because they are still face a high risk from coronavirus.
Extending the furlough scheme
The TUC and a host of other charities including Kidney Care UK, Age UK, Carers UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, Diabetes UK, and the Alzheimer's Society say the job retention scheme has been vital in supporting workers and families during this crisis. But the report warns that many with childcare or wider caring responsibilities lack the support they need to get back to work. People in this situation are at risk of losing their jobs and income without an extension of the furlough scheme. The report calls on the government to support workers who find themselves in an area that is under local lockdown and unable to work, with access to a furlough scheme for the length of time the lockdown is in place.
In addition to the new furlough schemes, the TUC is calling on the government to:
- Make access to support easier for high-risk workers: Those at heightened at risk of covid-19 should be able to rely on a note from their GP or clinician to qualify for furlough.
- Ensure workers who continue to work from home have appropriate support: Working spaces at home should be adapted to enable people at high risk to work from home. The TUC says a one-off payment from government-funded body Access to Work should be made available to facilitate this.
- Guaranteed home and flexible working: Disabled workers, carers and those with health conditions who were able to work flexibly and from home during the crisis should be able to do so permanently. This would help them stay in work.
- Ensure our parental leave is fit for purpose: Give all workers, regardless of their employment status, a day one right to 10 days paid parental leave.
Chris Greaves is one of the shielders due to return to work on August 1. He is considered at risk as he had a kidney transplant a few years ago. He works as a maintenance technician in a warehouse and said almost 20 of the permanent staff at his workplace had fallen ill with covid-19. He said, "I've been on furlough since March because of that and really concerned about going back. At least they'll know I'm vulnerable and to stay away from me. There's also agency staff there who won't know to do so and whose coronavirus status is unknown. It won't always be possible to keep a two-metre distance from other people.
If I was having to live off statutory sick pay alone, I'd lose my house".
Kidney Care UK is urgently calling for an extension of furlough so that people are not pressured to prioritise income over health when shielding is paused. Protection for people with kidney disease so that they do not fall through the cracks is vital at this critical time. Fiona Loud, Policy Director for Kidney Care UK, said ‘After months of stressful self-isolation patients are now extremely worried that they will be exposed to coronavirus and risk their precious health or lose their jobs. People who have been shielding must not be abandoned without a financial lifeline.’
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Many people who have been shielding from Covid-19 won’t be able to return to work yet because the virus continues to pose a threat to their lives – or the lives of those they live with.
“Tens of thousands of others will be stopped from returning to work because of their caring responsibilities, like working mums without childcare. And people unable to work from home during ‘local lockdowns’ must not be forced to risk exposure to the virus to feed, clothe and house themselves and their family.
“Ministers can’t stand by and let these people lose their jobs and livelihoods. The priority now is stopping the misery of unemployment – and making sure people who can’t work through no fault of their own do not lose everything they’ve worked so hard for.”
You can see the full report on the TUC website
The full list of charities supporting calls for furlough to be extended for vulnerable workers alongside TUC:-
- Age UK
- Alzheimer's Society
- Carers UK
- Diabetes UK
- Kidney Care UK
- MS Society
- Muscular Dystrophy UK
- National Voices
- Ovarian Cancer Action
- Parkinson's UK