Monday 02 August, 2021

Government ‘restricted access to sick pay’ for people isolating during Covid

Senior government officials instructed to conceal how part of the furlough scheme could be used to access sick pay.

The UK Treasury restricted access to sick pay for people isolating at the height of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been alleged.

As reported by Politico’s London Playbook, emails leaked reveal that in January and February of this year the UK Treasury instructed senior government officials to conceal from the public how a little-known part of the furlough scheme could be used to access isolation sick pay.

Politico reported that “the Treasury instructed senior government officials to conceal from the public how a little-known part of the furlough scheme could be used to access isolation sick pay, as the cost of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme soared.”

Unite national officer Joe Clarke said: “This revelation is absolutely disgusting and demonstrates that the government acted recklessly with the safety of workers.

“The government cynically suppressed this information from businesses at a time when over a 1,000 people a day were dying from Covid.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic Unite has consistently called for an increase in sick pay as workers cannot afford to self-isolate on less than £100 a week.

“It is simply astonishing that the government had in place measures to tackle the problem of poverty while self-isolating but cynically decided not to tell anyone about it.

“This decision will have cost lives, led to increased infections and meant that successive lockdowns have lasted longer than necessary, further damaging the economy.

“This is a government that has been shown to have repeatedly given huge contracts to their friends. But when it comes to the workers who have kept the economy going through the pandemic, they suppressed the information needed to keep them safe and financially secure.”

Commenting, the SNP’s Health spokesperson, Dr Philippa Whitford MP, said: “I didn’t think this Tory government could stoop any lower but I have just been proven wrong.

“To restrict access to much-needed cash for people isolating – a vital step in suppressing the virus and a step advised by the UK government itself – is absolute madness as it will have increased the spread of the virus and endangered lives.

“Surveys have demonstrated the significant number of people, who have tested positive for Covid, who have not fully isolated due to financial pressures because the UK government’s statutory sick pay is woefully inadequate.

“We now learn that the Tories exacerbated this – not just by failing to heed our calls to improve sick pay – but by suppressing access to it altogether.

“That is not leadership – it is recklessness and Scotland deserves better than this!

“The Tory government has spent months forcing workers into hardship in the middle of the biggest public health and economic crisis we have ever seen.

“Tory Ministers must now apologise and to make up for this damaging action by increasing Statutory Sick Pay in line with the Real Living Wage, making it available for 52 weeks instead of 28, and making it available to everyone regardless of earnings, working hours or contract.”

A Treasury spokesperson told Politico: “Our furlough scheme has saved millions of jobs, helping families who otherwise would have been out of work — and we have spent £65 billion pounds on this to date.

“In working up the detail of the scheme we had to balance the need to get help out to people quickly while minimising the risk of fraud and protecting taxpayers’ money from abuse.

“We have an extensive support package in place for those self-isolating due to coronavirus including £500 one off payments for those on low incomes.

“Our guidance on furlough has always been clear that employees can be furloughed according to business need and that the scheme can be used for individuals who are clinically extremely vulnerable or at high risk of severe illness from coronavirus.”

Last Updated: 22:21 GMT, 17 June 2021.

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