This public health emergency has exposed the sheer inadequacy of our social safety net. Sick pay is too low, there isn’t adequate support for parents who have to take leave to provide care, and the self-employed and those on zero-hours are fighting to stay afloat. And the economic shock caused by the pandemic has risked the livelihoods of workers across the country.

On Sunday 10 May, the Prime Minister announced that anyone who cannot work from home should be actively encouraged to go to work and, the next day, the government released new guidance for employers.

I know that lots of people will not feel safe returning to work as the government starts to ease the lockdown. No worker should have their life or the lives of their loved ones risked simply by going to work. This was true before the coronavirus crisis and should not be cast aside now.

If you are being asked to work in an unsafe environment, I can help. You can tell me about any problems at work anonymously via louise@louisehaigh.org.uk.

Please also report any concerns to the Health and Safety Executive by telephone on 0300 790 6787. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 10pm.

I’d urge every worker to join a trade union to make sure they have strong representation in their workplace both during and after this pandemic. You can find the right trade union for you and become a union member here.

I have also been fighting for the Government to take serious, radical action to shore up workers’ jobs and income. I am pleased they have announced a serious package of measures to protect the income of workers at-risk in businesses threatened by the economic shock, but they do not go far enough.

 

Worker retention scheme

I know many will be facing unprecedented disruption at work and will be fearful about the future and that’s why I have been demanding the Government take unprecedented action to support workers in recent weeks. I am pleased they have ensured businesses with workers who may have been laid-off as a result of the crisis can be retained and the Government will cover 80% of their wages. This was a crucial step to protecting workers in this climate and one I welcome.

 

More support desperately needed

But it does not go far enough and I am clear the Government must go much further. Many ‘at-risk’ workers, those suffering with certain conditions that put them at greater risk from Covid-19, are still being forced to go into work; they are faced with the choice between losing their job or going into work and risking their health. The Government must put this right and I have written to the Chancellor to urgently clarify the support for ‘at-risk’ workers. See more here.

 

The self-employed need much more support

The Government announced the latest scheme for the self-employed on Thursday 26 March. The scheme will be open to those with a trading profit of less than £50,000 in 2018-19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. To qualify, more than half of their income in these periods must come from self-employment. Find more info here.

However, the money will only begin to arrive at the start of June at the earliest, which will be too late for millions of self-employed people, and gaps in the coverage mean that many self-employed people will not be eligible for support. I will be fighting hard for these gaps to be closed and for improvements to the Government’s support package for the self-employed.

 

Childcare responsibilities

This crisis is unprecedented and the school closures have left parents scrambling at the last minute, without their usual support network, particularly grandparents. I have called on the Government to guarantee full paid leave for parents and for government reimbursement to cover the costs for businesses. It is simply not acceptable that parents are being faced with taking up to eighteen weeks unpaid leave, through no fault of their own.

 

Some changes to Statutory Sick Pay but not enough

If you become sick and you are eligible for Statutory Sick Pay and if you live in a household, you will need to remain in that household for 14 days. You will be eligible for SSP from day one, and the employer is expected to exercise discretion on the need for a sick note. Statutory Sick Pay though, is simply not enough and leaves a minimum wage worker, for instance forced to take a £200 p/w pay cut. I have called on SSP to be substantially increased and extending to all workers so no-one has to choose between health and hardship.

 

I will fight in Parliament for the Government to go further in the support they are offering to our community in four key areas:

  • Increasing Statutory Sick Pay in line with average earnings and extending it for everyone, including the self-employed and those on zero hours.
  • Fight for those ‘at-risk’ workers who are still being forced to go into work and risk their health.
  • A more generous package for the self-employed whose livelihoods are at-risk as a result of the economic shock but who don’t qualify for government support.
  • Ensuring those parents unable to work due to the school closures receive full-pay and don’t have to take unpaid leave.

It is not too late for the government to act to secure our social safety during this unprecedented crisis and I believe it is in the interests of public health that they do so urgently.  

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