Many in shielded group face income drop
A study by Citizens Advice has looked at how the income of people “shielding” to avoid catching Covid-19 has been affected by the pandemic.
People advised to shield include those who: are organ transplant recipients, have specific cancers, have severe respiratory conditions, and are on immunosuppression therapies.
Citizens Advice found that four in 10 (41%) of those in the shielded group have lost at least 20% of their income, while more than a quarter (27%) have lost 60% of their income or more.
The charity has supported thousands of workers with underlying health conditions, and their family members, who have been denied access to the furlough scheme. Others were initially furloughed but have since been asked to return to frontline roles as shop workers and delivery drivers.
Worryingly, as many as one in 10 (12%) in the shielded group are working outside of the home despite this potentially putting their health at risk.
The charity is warning that people face a “catch-22” situation due to a flaw in government guidance. The guidance advises 2.5 million people who are “extremely clinically vulnerable” to shield at home until the end of June, but does not oblige employers to furlough them.
Analysis of about 2,000 of all employment cases Citizens Advice has seen since 14 April showed more than 70% of those who are shielding or are at higher risk from coronavirus were not furloughed.
Frontline staff at Citizens Advice say those in the shielded group who are choosing to work outside the home are often doing so because they fear they will lose their jobs if they try to negotiate with their employer.
Cases reported by the charity’s advisers include people who have undergone organ transplants or who have serious lung conditions but have been asked to return to work.
Call for the right to be furloughed
The charity is calling for the most vulnerable workers, including those in the shielded group, or who share a household with someone in the shielded group, to have a right to be furloughed for as long as their work would require them to breach public health advice.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, says: “The government’s extraordinary interventions have protected millions of jobs and incomes, but some of the most vulnerable have still fallen through the safety net.
“We’re already seeing worrying cases of people being caught in a catch-22 where they have been denied furlough and asked to work in direct contradiction of public health advice. We fear the situation could worsen as more workplaces reopen.
“Unless people who are shielding have a right to be furloughed while their health is at risk, some will continue to face an impossible choice: paying the bills or protecting their health.”