Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) welcomed the creation of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS): timely responses which protected incomes and prevented many jobs being lost. There are some gaps in the schemes, together with some misuse or non-use of the CJRS by employers, which have caused detriment to workers.
To address some of the remaining gaps in the schemes and ensure they can be wound down safely, Citizens Advice Scotland recommends:
- Making workers who began, or were due to begin, a new job up to the date of the announcement of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (20 March) eligible to be furloughed, regardless of whether they had been paid by that point. As this change will likely be after the cut-off date for new claims, make provision for people in this group to still access the CJRS retrospectively.
- Giving certain types of workers, such as those in the shielding group, a right to be furloughed under the scheme. A formal right for workers to request to be furloughed which cannot be unreasonably refused by an employer could also be considered. As this change will likely be after the cut-off date for new claims, make provision for people in this group to still access the CJRS retrospectively.
- Provide mechanisms for workers to anonymously (to their employer) report instances of employers refusing to furlough them, forcing them to work despite it being unsafe to do so, or placing them on Statutory Sick Pay or annual leave instead of using the scheme to HMRC or the Health and Safety Executive. Sufficient resources should be given to those bodies to investigate and act on reports of misuse or abuse of the scheme by employers.
- People who have become self-employed in the past year should be allowed to access support from the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
- Self-employed people should also be entitled to claim support from SEISS for ongoing business costs such as premises, equipment costs, professional body membership fees and insurance where they have been unable to due to COVID-19.
- To ensure that people who are ineligible for either scheme are entitled to social security support, extend entitlement to Universal Credit to students, people subject to immigration control and people with capital exceeding £16,000.
- A flexible approach should be taken to the winding up of the support schemes, tied to the easing of restrictions and direct economic effects of the pandemic. This should take account of the differing impacts on different sectors of the economy, as well as the differing approaches to easing lockdown in the four nations of the UK.
In addition, the schemes and their gaps have highlighted wider issues that we would recommend as priorities for action when the economy begins to recover. Based on CAB evidence, CAS would recommend in the medium term:
- Taking further action so zero hours contract workers, and workers in the ‘gig economy’ have full employment rights and protections, including income protection if they are unable to work, or given no work by their employer.
- Giving consideration to whether the current employment rights of self-employed people should be increased, in particular giving them a right to Statutory Sick Pay and other forms of income protection.
- Completing the establishment of a Single Enforcement Body for employment rights as a matter of priority.
- Taking a human rights budgeting approach to reviewing the ongoing adequacy of Universal Credit and other social security support with a view to ensuring a minimum income standard.