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TUC calls for furlough scheme to be extended for shielding workers

Written by: Emma Lunn
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) and a coalition of charities, including Age UK and National Voices, have called on the Government to extend Coronavirus Job Retention scheme for high-risk workers.

The TUC says people who have been shielding from coronavirus and can’t safely return to work from 1 August risk losing their jobs and livelihoods.

It says the furlough scheme should be extended for those at high-risk and who cannot work from home.

The union also suggested the furlough scheme should be extended for people with wider caring responsibilities and workers affected by local lockdowns.

Shielding restrictions

In March the government asked about 627,000 people who had been in work to stay at home and ‘shield’ from the coronavirus. One in three (31%) of them – nearly 200,000 people – 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 people having to return to work despite being at heightened risk.

But TUC research found that tens of thousands of people, especially older and disabled workers and those living with ill health, may not be able to go back to work safely, because they still face a high risk from coronavirus.

The report also sets out that localised outbreaks are likely to lead to reinstatement of shielding restrictions in the future, again leaving shielded workers unable to attend work outside the home.

Caring responsibilities

The TUC report also warns that many people with childcare or wider caring responsibilities also lack the  support they need to get back to work. People in this situation are at risk of losing their jobs and income if the furlough scheme is not extended.

The report also calls on the Government to support workers who find themselves in an area that is under local lockdown and unable to work. It suggests workers should be furloughed for the length of time the lockdown is in place.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, says: “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 people risk being forced out of their jobs after August 1 if the job retention scheme is not extended and their workplaces cannot be made safe.

“Many 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.”

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, says: “People who have been shielding have made great sacrifices over the last few months to protect themselves, their families and the NHS, and it would be hugely unfair if they lost their jobs as a result.

“But this is a real fear now, especially for older workers who had been banking on keeping working to fund their retirements.”

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