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Furlough: What happens if I am asked to shield and can't work from home?

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said it would be a "very worrying time for hundreds of thousands of working people"

The furlough scheme hasn’t been advertised widely enough, unions say. Image credit: jarmoluk / Pixabay

The furlough scheme hasn’t been advertised widely enough, unions say. Image credit: jarmoluk / Pixabay

The Government has announced an additional 1.7 million people in England will be asked to remain indoors after new modelling from Oxford University identified adults at higher risk from Covid-19. 

The new modelling considers factors such as ethnicity, deprivation and weight to work out how vulnerable a person is to the virus, rather than just health. 

Patients will be contacted by GPs and told they could be more vulnerable to the virus than previously thought and advised to shield. 

But for many who have been going out to work during the country’s third national lockdown, this will mean potentially not going to work and losing out on income.

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Shielding workers are entitled to statutory sick pay, employment support allowance and universal credit payments if they are unable to work from home but unions have demanded that employers furlough workers who cannot work. 

While some individuals on the new list may not be of working age, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said it would be a “very worrying time for hundreds of thousands of working people”. 

“Some will be able to work from home – but others will not,” she said. “These new shielders who can’t work from home must not lose their jobs and livelihoods overnight.”

The furlough scheme sees the Government pay up to 80 per cent of workers’ wages and has been extended until the end of April. It is designed to allow businesses to keep employees on during the Covid-19 crisis and prevent mass unemployment.

But the TUC, which represents unions and campaigns for greater employee protections, has raised concerns it hasn’t been advertised widely enough. 

A Treasury spokesperson said furlough had “always been available” to any eligible employer who chose to use it.

Unions have also accused employees of not using the scheme in good faith and failing to furlough employees who need to stop working during the pandemic, such as for childcare reasons

This is despite the fact Government guidance allows people to be furloughed if they are shielding or struggling to get childcare. 

O’Grady said better messaging was needed to make sure people knew they could be furloughed. 

“Employers must furlough new shielders who can’t work from home to keep them and their jobs safe,” she added.

“Ministers must publicise the option to furlough new shielders, and should consider introducing a right to be furloughed for all those who are required to shield.”  

The TUC is urging ministers to introduce a temporary “right to furlough” for groups who cannot work because of Covid-19 restrictions. 

The union said this would include parents with childcare responsibilities and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and required to shield. 

A Treasury spokesperson said: “Furlough has always been available to any eligible employer who chooses to use it.

“In addition at the start of the pandemic we made statutory sick pay payable from day one and also extended it to those ill, self-isolating or shielding due to coronavirus.

“It is also the minimum amount an eligible employee is entitled to receive from their employer and over half of people receive more from their workplace through occupational sick pay.

“Those eligible also benefit from further support through measures such as the £500 Self-Isolation Support Payment Scheme and £20 a week increase to Universal Credit.”

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