Both Labour and the SNP have called on the Prime Minister to provide emergency legislation to protect workers’ rights and ensure people receiving Universal Credit do not face sanctions if they are unable to make an appointment due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In Prime Minister’s Questions, Ian Blackford MP asked that while the Governor of the Bank of England suggested a ‘financial bridge’ may be available to assist markets through any economic volatility, would there will also be a ‘financial bridge’ for ordinary workers and those on social security.
He said statutory pay must be in line with the Living Wage, and Universal Credit claimants must not face sanctions if they need to self isolate through becoming ill.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also urged the Prime Minister to ensure that workers and benefit claimants are protected from hardship, should they need to self-isolate and are unable to work or attend Jobcentre appointments.
Boris Johnson announced during PMQ’s that rules on statutory sick pay will be changed to allow Coronavirus patients to claim from the first day of their sickness.
But with many workers such as freelancers and the self-employed ineligible for sick-pay, opposition parties warned that those affected may be forced to choose between their health and financial security.
Commenting, SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford MP said: “All of us must provide clear, calm and practical leadership in the days ahead.
“In the past few days Scotland’s First Minister, the Scottish Government and the Westminster government have been working closely to put plans in place to protect all of our people.
“Of course, people are worried about their health, but there are also millions of workers who are worried about the consequences for their incomes, their job security and their families.
“What they require from this Prime Minister is specific guarantees.
“While the Prime Minister confirmed that statutory sick pay will be available from day 1, millions of workers are not eligible because they do not meet the earnings threshold and it is not available for the self employed or those on zero-hours contracts.
“The payments must also be in line with the Living Wage. Small businesses must also be supported”.
Meanwhile, Labour MP and shadow Chancellor John McDonnell accused the Chancellor Rishi Sunak of failing to act over the threat the Coronavirus poses to the economy.
“There is no sense of urgency from the Chancellor in his response to the potential economic impacts of coronavirus,” said Labour’s Shadow Chancellor.
“We cannot wait another week until the budget to have a plan published. People, businesses and the markets need clarity now that the government has a comprehensive economic plan in place.”
“We awaited a detailed economic plan but the sum total of economic thinking in the Government’s coronavirus action plan is a restatement of existing HMRC policy.”
“The Chancellor has failed to outline how he will respond to potential consequences for production, consumption, and GDP, or provide support for vulnerable workers.”
He continued: “The public will be disappointed that the Chancellor does not seem to appreciate the seriousness of the situation facing the economy, and he must urgently issue a plan from a Treasury perspective of the kind that Labour published on Monday.”
Many self employed people who don’t qualify for sick pay have been told to claim Universal Credit if they become ill and need to self isolate. There has been little assurance from the Government regarding how it will mitigate the five week waiting period for those people, at a time when they are vulnerable, and can hardly visit food banks under the circumstances.
People may also be expected to meet job centre staff in person, with ID documents in order to activate their Universal Credit claim, which is problematic if you are ill or self-isolating.
Universal Credit isn’t fit for purpose at the best of times, how on earth can people trust the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure people aren’t left without money for food and essentials for their families for weeks on end?
Because lets face it, that has become the established norm over the last eight years.