Labour calls for more targeted support as unions demand change to sick pay

© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor
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The government has unnecessarily found itself in a big mess over a poorly-communicated, ill-thought-out coronavirus decision – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – and come under fire after suddenly imposing quarantine restrictions on travellers arriving from Spain. The fact that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had just flown to Spain for a holiday when the news emerged over the weekend adds a little humour to the situation. But the Spanish Prime Minister is fuming after No 10 extended the UK’s ‘essential travel only’ recommendation to the Balearic and the Canary Islands, with Pedro Sánchez pointing out that we would be safer from Covid-19 there than at home in the UK. In another twist, it is now being reported that the quarantine times may be cut to ten days with the introduction of more testing.

Labour has warned again that the government must drop its “one-size-fits-all” approach to business support during the crisis and protect travel jobs in particular. We know that the aviation sector is in big trouble, and targeted intervention – with environmental conditions attached – is sorely needed to defend workers. That is especially the case when anyone considering a trip abroad will be put off by the events of the last few days. Why take the risk of overseas travel, when Airbnb is available and the beautiful Cotswolds are right there? The other gaping hole in government plans, of course, is that there has been no change to the level of statutory sick pay, and No 10 has rejected the idea of offering it to those forced to quarantine. Their solution? Claim Universal Credit.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman told journalists yesterday that the government “would encourage employers to be understanding of those returning, and flexible in accommodating their need to self-isolate”. That’s alright, then! If that doesn’t work out, there is always UC, he explained. And although there can be a five-week wait, applicants can get an advance on their first payment. (This is a loan that will need to be paid back.) Or employees can seek arbitration with their workplace. Would it not be easier to simply extend statutory sick pay, and increase it, as proposed by trade unions including the TUC’s Frances O’Grady? The government does not appear willing to consider the idea.

Scrapping the deeply flawed Universal Credit is just one of the many subjects I’ll be touching on in my latest ‘in conversation’ event with Labour’s work and pensions spokesperson Jonathan Reynolds MP tomorrow. What other policies would you like to see explored by Labour? Join us here at 6pm on Wednesday for the live broadcast, and as usual do feel free to submit suggestions for questions about his policy brief via email. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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