"Staggering" Government suppression of sick pay access slammed
HM Treasury has suppressed access to sick pay for furloughed workers, it has been reported. "It is staggering that at a time when the country is being asked to make enormous sacrifices the Chancellor isn't doing everything in his power to ensure everyone is properly supported, including working families and vulnerable workers, and to help struggling businesses stay afloat," was the reaction of Cllr Robin Ashby, who speaks for Newcastle LIberal Democrtas on business and emplyment matters
He welcomed the move by Liberal Democrats MPs Munira Wilson and Christine Jardine, who have written to the Chancellor demanding the Government protects lives and livelihoods in response to reports
The letter (below) also highlights the lack of new support for businesses and workers following the month-long extension of Coronavirus restrictions.
"At the beginning of this pandemic the Chancellor promised he would do 'whatever it takes' to protect people's livelihoods. Yet his department stands accused of suppressing access to support for those self-isolating, one of the country's most effective tools for slowing the spread of this terrible disease," continued Clr Ashby.
"Liberal Democrats have been calling on the Government to provide proper financial support for small businesses and fix the broken and inadequate self-isolation system all the way through this crisis.
"It is staggering that at a time when the country is being asked to make enormous sacrifices the Chancellor isn't doing everything in his power to ensure everyone is properly supported, including working families and vulnerable workers, and to help struggling businesses stay afloat."
The full text of the letter from Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Munira Wilson MP and Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson Christine Jardine MP is below:
We are writing to express our grave concern over recent reports that HM Treasury suppressed access to sick pay by concealing an element of the furlough scheme that could allow people to to claim self-isolation payments. At a time of national crisis, it is unfathomable that the Government risked putting people's lives in danger to save money.
Equally alarming is the lack of new support for businesses and workers following the month-long extension of Coronavirus restrictions. An effective self-isolation system combined with employment and business support are essential in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and protecting people's livelihoods.
Whilst we believe the delay to reopening was avoidable if ministers had placed India on the red list sooner, we recognise that with rising cases and hospitalisations, it is right to delay step four of the roadmap. But it is only fair that new restrictions come with new support for people and businesses.
SMEs will have to start paying business rates and contribute to their furloughed employees' salaries from July 1st, setting aside thousands of pounds before they've seen any sign of their revenues bouncing back.
The reopening delay also came as a heavy blow to thousands of workers who have seen their incomes dwindle during the pandemic. People have spent months getting by on a fraction of their income, relying on Universal Credit, or using up their savings.
For some vulnerable workers this has even meant that staying home to self-isolate is not a financially viable option. Although the Government has made £500 available to those self-isolating, people find it hard to access and, for many working families, it is simply not enough. Too many have had to make the choice between doing their bit by self-isolating and putting food on the table, or paying the bills.
Liberal Democrats therefore demand that the Government implement the following three steps to protect lives and livelihoods:
Ensure that all workers receive their full salary when they are required to self-isolate due to COVID-19, plus a bonus for completing the full duration, to incentivise compliance. A minimum level of earnings should be set for zero-hours and informal workers, who have irregular salaries, so that everyone is financially supported.
Extend the fully government-backed version of the furlough scheme at least until the end of 2021, to create certainty.
Extend the business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses for the rest of the financial year to ease companies' balance sheets, and consider opening it to small businesses in other sectors.
You promised last year to do "whatever it takes". Liberal Democrats call on you to uphold that promise and protect the businesses and workers that have spent more than a year fighting to keep their head above water. We sincerely hope that you will consider our fair and practical approach outlined above.
We look forward to your response.
Munira Wilson MP
Member of Parliament for Twickenham
Liberal Democrats' Health, Wellbeing and Social Care Spokesperson
Christine Jardine MP
Member of Parliament for Edinburgh West
Liberal Democrats' Treasury Spokesperson