KATE OSBORNE: More must be done to help workforce during this crisis

I have received a large number of e-mails and letters from businesses and workers outlining the many issues they’re currently facing and what the government’s financial support measures during the Coronavirus crisis means for them.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Some workers explained to me that they had only just started new jobs before the coronavirus crisis hit. They explained how they now feel devastated that unlike other colleagues, the government scheme to cover 80% of their wages was unavailable to them.

When the Covid-19 crisis first hit the UK, the Chancellor announced that employers would be able to apply for financial help by paying the wages of its staff as the economy faced its biggest crisis since the Great Depression.

Under the job retention scheme, businesses would be able to keep employees on, even if there was no work for them, and reclaim up to £2,500 a month in wages for each worker.

Initially the scheme applied to workers who were on their employer’s payroll on 28th February, but following my letter to the Chancellor and other pressure from the Opposition, the government extended the cut-off date to be eligible for furlough to 19th March.

I very much welcomed the change, but have made further representations to the Chancellor because I strongly believe the extension didn’t go far enough. Swathes of employees who receive monthly pay will still miss out on support through the scheme because they must have been on their new employer’s payroll – and HM Revenue & Customs must have been notified of it – by 19th March, a practice that commonly falls to the end of each month.

Earlier this week in the virtual House of Commons, I raised my concerns about the furlough scheme’s new cut off-date. Although the extension allows more employees who are paid weekly or fortnightly to be furloughed, hundreds of thousands of workers across the country still miss out, because they moved to new PAYE employment after 28 February 2020, and were added to payroll after 19 March.

It is deeply unfair that so many people are still being left behind through no fault of their own.

Many of these workers have worked for many years, but recently moved jobs due to a promotion or a change of career. Many have contacted their previous employer and asked to be re-employed on furlough, but have been told they are unwilling or unable to help.

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Now they have been informed that they are not eligible for furlough a second time! This has left these workers facing severe hardship navigating an already struggling social security system.

The government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme must be effective so that people’s livelihoods and incomes are protected while they do the right thing and stay at home, protect our National Health Service, and save lives.

Workers need to know that they will be supported and it isn’t right that too many are being excluded from the scheme.

The Chancellor must look to further extend the cut-off date for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to include the large proportion of workers who receive monthly pay and give the opportunity for other new employees to be furloughed.

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The government must urgently address this issue to ensure that this hugely important policy is successful in helping our country’s workforce through this crisis.