Call for furlough-type scheme for vulnerable older workers

Age UK is calling on the Government to introduce a furlough-type system for vulnerable older workers who may not feel able to return safely to the workplace in August.

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The Chancellor should introduce a new ‘furlough-style scheme’ for all those workers who have been shielding or who are at high risk and are not yet able to return to work safely and whose jobs cannot be carried out from home, according to Age UK.

Its analysis shows that 319,000 older workers (aged 50+) were advised to shield in March for health reasons. It says that there will also be many others who live with someone who is extremely vulnerable and who need to continue to be extra cautious too.

Age UK says older workers who are vulnerable face an “agonising” decision in August about whether to go back to work or risk losing income or their job – particularly given older people typically find it much harder to get back into work if they lose employment than younger groups.

It is asking the Government to ensure that employees who are at high risk from the virus are not forced to return to their workplace until it is safe to do so, by:

  • Protecting shielded employees through implementing a new furlough-style  support scheme for people who are clinically vulnerable and at special risk from Covid-19
  • Ensuring that the employer/employee relationship is maintained throughout this period, so that people affected retain full employment rights and do not find themselves out of work because of their condition
  • Offering extra protection from dismissal for people who are coming back from furlough or from shielding, as proposed by the TUC among others
  • Extending the right to work flexibly, thereby enhancing many shielders’ and older workers’ ability to work from home
  • Clarifying the criteria for being classified as being at high risk from Covid-19 and providing workplace assessments by clinical practitioners or health and safety assessors
  • Clarifying the guidance on how to make workplaces ‘Covid-secure’ and putting in place arrangements for effective enforcement
  • Making it easier for people to report health and safety breaches relating to Covid-19 in the workplace, should they occur.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “For the sake of employers as well as their staff we call on the Government to implement a new furlough-style support scheme at the current 80% level for workers who are shielding or who are exceptional risk from the virus, if August 1st is too early for them to return safely to work. These people shouldn’t have to choose between keeping their jobs or compromising their health, and their employers shouldn’t have to choose between letting valued staff go or funding them to stay away, not working.

“It’s not just in the workplace where there may be a risk – it’s the travelling for those who are dependent on public transport to get to and from work.

“We fear that unless the Government intervenes to help, this situation is a recipe for unemployment among older shielded workers to soar. Yet these 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 now as a result.”



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