At-risk workers must have right to be furloughed, says charity


Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy have been denied furlough by their employers despite being most at risk from Covid-19, according to Citizens Advice.

The charity said those in the shielded group – told to stay indoors and limit contact with others – are having their health put at risk by employers not furloughing them even though they are eligible for the Government support.

In the week after applications for the job retention scheme launched, Citizens Advice said it gave one-on-one employment advice to 4,152 workers.

Analysis of a randomised sample of 10% of these cases, roughly 415 employees, found more than 70% of those who were potentially high risk had not been furloughed.

The charity said its advisers have helped workers in the shielded group who have been denied furlough, including people undergoing chemotherapy – despite being told by the Government to stay at home.

It added many are now left relying on £95.85 per week from Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and any additional benefits they might be entitled to.

Citizens Advice is now calling for the most vulnerable workers to have a right to be furloughed if their work requires them to breach public health advice.

One food shop employee, in the shielded group because she has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, called the situation a “catch-22” after being denied furlough and instead put on SSP.

The 55-year-old, whose name is only given as Colleen, told Citizens Advice: “I really wish I never gave my work the (shielding) letter because at least I wouldn’t be struggling to get by.

“It’s just a catch-22. I’m damned if I work and I’m damned if I don’t go to work.

“I’m struggling to pay my normal bills and buy things like food. I’ve had to sign up to get food parcels as I just don’t have enough money.”

The UK Government’s job retention scheme pays 80% of wages up to £2,500 a month.

Chief executive Dame Gillian Guy said: “The shielded group, and the people they live with, are likely to have to remain at home for longer than others.

“These are the people who need the protection of the furlough scheme the most so it’s essential they’re able to use it.”