‘Pay furloughed workers like jury service to beat Covid’ Tower Hamlets mayor urges government

PUBLISHED: 13:11 27 August 2020 | UPDATED: 13:23 27 August 2020

Mayor John Biggs... Those who harrasses neighbours should forfeit social housing.

Mayor John Biggs... Those who harrasses neighbours should forfeit social housing." Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

One-in-five workers in the East End were furloughed during the height of the pandemic while benefits claims shot up by a staggering 80 per cent, latest official statistics reveal.

Town hall calls for furloughed workers to be paid like jury service during pandemic crisis. Picture: Mike BrookeTown hall calls for furloughed workers to be paid like jury service during pandemic crisis. Picture: Mike Brooke

Now the Mayor of Tower Hamlets is calling on the government to recognise self-isolation as “a civic duty like jury service” and to continue paying workers their normal wage if they are told to stay at home under the NHS “test and trace” system.

Employers should be able to claim back the wages from the government, John Biggs suggests.

“Self-isolation is a civic duty that benefits all of us,” he said. “But workers should not face a financial penalty for doing the right thing by staying at home when they’re told to self-isolate.

“The ‘test and trace’ system won’t work if people are forced to choose between going to work or seeing their wages cut. This makes the fight against Covid-19 much harder.”

Tower Hamlets has seen “a significant jump” in unemployment with 20 per cent of the working population furloughed in June and Universal Credit claimants jump by almost 80pc between March and May, according to the Institute for Employment Studies.

The mayor is formally backing the national ‘Time Out to Help Out’ campaign to recognise self-isolation as a civic duty as much as having to serve on a jury.

A spokesman at the mayor’s office told the East London Advertiser: “People simply cannot afford to stay at home if they have a job and are asked to self-isolate, which is where the jury service style reimbursement would step in.”

Depty mayor Rachel Blake... Depty mayor Rachel Blake... "Champions can help by sharing knowledge with friends, family and neighbours to help reduce the spread of the virus." Picture: Mike Brooke

Meanwhile, the burden falls on local authorities like Tower Hamlets through its programme tackling poverty and helping isolated families get access to food.

Deputy Mayor Rachel Blake said: “The NHS ‘test and trace’ in beating Covid relies on people self-isolating when they’re asked to.

But the penalty that many people face by staying at home completely undermines this effort. It’s an impossible choice for those who can’t work from home or are self-employed.”

Those who can claim Statutory Sick Pay get just £95.85 a week, significantly less than Tower Hamlets’ average household income just of under £600.

Self-employed workers, however, are not entitled to sick pay, nor are those who earn less than £120 or those on zero-hours contracts or casual labour.

Cllr Motin Uz-Zaman, the council’s cabinet member for work, said: “They shouldn’t be punished for self-isolating. It’s vital that the government introduces the ‘Time Out to Help Out’ proposals as soon as possible, with the furlough scheme ending soon and many employees having to return to work.”

What worries the authority are those who have to carry on going to work if they can’t do their jobs from home which “puts the whole fight against Covid at risk”.

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