Trades Union Congress Petition on Key Workers
“The Government is committed to supporting the lowest paid workers for their hard work and valuable contribution to the economy. The introduction of the National Living Wage (NLW) has delivered the fastest pay rise for the lowest earners in 20 years.
I am glad that the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, pledged to raise the NLW further, to two-thirds of median earnings. This is expected to be £10.50 by 2024, making the UK the first major economy in the world to set such an ambition. This rise in the National Living Wage will be especially important for those whose incomes have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. I also look forward to seeing the recommendations for 2021’s minimum wage rates from the independent Low Pay Commission in the Autumn.
While not suitable for everyone, I believe that zero-hour contracts have a part to play in a modern, flexible labour market because, for a small proportion of the workforce, that may be the kind of contract that is right for them. Two-thirds of workers on these contracts do not want more hours.
However, it is important to make sure that those benefitting from the flexibility of these contracts are not exploited by unscrupulous employers and I welcome that action has been taken in this regard. In 2015, the Government legislated to ban exploitative zero hours arrangements meaning it is now illegal for employers to include exclusivity clauses in these contracts.”
IR35 (Off payroll working rules)
The fair tax treatment of individuals working across the labour market is a well-established principle of the UK tax system. The off-payroll working rules are designed to ensure that where two people are working in the same way, but one is directly employed and one is working through a company, broadly the same amount of tax is paid. Without these rules there is nothing to prevent employers moving employees off-payroll simply to avoid paying employment taxes.
However, the cost of non-compliance with these rules is set to reach £1.3 billion per year by 2023/24 if not addressed. This is an unsustainable cost that is borne by taxpayers up and down the country. This reform will improve compliance by moving responsibility for determining whether the rules apply from a contractor’s limited company to their client. This is not a new tax but a transfer of responsibilities within the existing rules.
This reform has been in place in the public sector since 2017. Unless this reform is also introduced in the private sector, a disparity of treatment will continue, potentially leading to recruitment and retention difficulties in the public sector and unfairness for contractors working for public sector clients.
Pregnancy & Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill:
I sympathise with anyone who have been made redundant or who is currently facing redundancy, particularly during this already challenging time. The Government is doing all it can to save as many jobs as possible but regrettably, it is not possible to save every job.
The Pregnancy & Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Private Members’ Bill, which failed to complete its passage in the previous Parliament, was re-introduced on 8 July 2020 by Mrs Maria Miller MP. I understand that the Bill seeks to further protect employees from being made redundant as a result of being pregnant or on maternity leave. I understand that its Second Reading is scheduled to be on 16 October and I look forward to hearing more on this important issue.
There are some circumstances in which an employee who is pregnant or on maternity could legally be made redundant, and these include if the businesses closes down either temporarily or permanently, if the business moves and the employee cannot get to the new premises, or if fewer employees are required for existing work.
However, the law is very clear, if an employee is made redundant because she is pregnant or on maternity leave, this is unfair dismissal and also pregnancy/maternity discrimination. If this is the case, an employee should check their rights online (https://www.gov.uk/redundancy-your-rights) and if necessary take their case forward to an employment tribunal.
Impact of Coronavirus on Disabled People
It troubles me that so many people with disabilities feel forgotten during this crisis. As well as addressing this, we must ensure rights are not eroded and also look for opportunities to improve things for good. I have brought Scope’s report to the attention of my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Government Equalities Office. As well as ensuring those who feel forgotten are aware of this, we must look for gaps and further opportunities.
Local authorities are providing support to those people on the National Shielding List in the form of essential grocery supplies and social contact. People who are shielding are also entitled to priority supermarket delivery slots and medicine delivery. The list is maintained by the National Shielding Service. If you are not on the list and think you should be, there are details on the gov.uk website advising you how to register (either online or by phone). You can also register via your local council website. This information is available at https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus-extremely-vulnerable and on the NHS website here: https://digital.nhs.uk/coronavirus/shielded-patient-list.
Regarding welfare, the Government acted quickly to suspend all face-to-face assessments for health and disability-related benefits while also extending award periods, giving people peace of mind that their benefit payments would continue. I am encouraged that Ministers are protecting the health of individuals claiming these benefits, many of whom are likely to be at greater risk of severe coronavirus symptoms due to their pre-existing health conditions.
My view is that measures in the Coronavirus Act are temporary and proportionate to the threat we face. It is important that they will only be used when strictly necessary and will only be in place for as long as required to respond to the public health emergency. Local authorities will still be expected to do as much as they can to comply with their duties to meet needs during this period, and the legislation does not remove the duty of care towards an individual's risk of serious neglect or harm. The legislation must not be used as cover for negating basic duties.
I am incredibly grateful for the commitment and selflessness of key and public sector workers who have kept people safe and ensured vital services could continue over the last few months. Last year, a number of those working in the public sector received above inflation pay rises. This included most members of the armed forces who received a 2.9 per cent increase, teachers and school staff who received a 2.75 per cent rise and police officers at 2.5 per cent. This was the biggest public sector pay rise for six years.
Following constructive negotiations between NHS employers and trade unions, a new deal will see a 6.5 per cent pay rise over three years for one million NHS nurses, midwifes and other Agenda for Change workers. Those on the lowest salaries in the NHS will see some of the largest proportionate pay rises: the lowest NHS starting salary will increase year on year from £15,404 to £18,005 in 2020/2021. Many nurses and healthcare assistants will enjoy pay increases of at least 25 per cent.
I understand the argument for increasing public sector pay in recognition of public servants’ efforts, and I want to make it clear that there are no plans to freeze public sector pay, contrary to some media reports. Public sector pay is kept under constant review, and I will impress upon the Chancellor the need for the efforts of workers to be properly recognised.
Diabetes in the Workplace
Protecting lives remains the main priority for the Government. Safety will always come first and that is why approximately 2.5 million have been asked to shield themselves, as they are most at risk of needing hospital treatment if they were to contract Covid-19. Clinically vulnerable people have been asked to follow the rules on social distancing particularly stringently.
If someone is shielding, which can be for various reasons including age or medical condition, their employer is expected to make every effort to enable them to work from home. If they are unable to work from home, they should discuss their options with their employer. It could be that an employer may be able to offer different types of leave, different working patterns or perhaps a different role.
There are several support schemes available to businesses who are struggling during this crisis, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-employment Income Support Scheme. These schemes are designed to support both employers and employees and to protect jobs.
It is important to state that employees have protection against unfair dismissal and, if they believe they have been unfairly dismissed, which could possibly be on the grounds of discrimination, they should contact the Employment Tribunal. Further details can be found online at: https://www.gov.uk/employment-tribunals.
While businesses can only re-open in accordance with Covid-19 Secure guidelines, which does include a risk assessment, if someone has been advised to shield then they should continue to follow this medical advice.
Face-to face Benefits Assessments
“I want to see as straightforward and sensitive an assessment process as possible. As a member of the DWP Select Committee, my role is to scrutinise processes such as face-to-face assessment, so I can assure you that this is something of which I am aware and which I will continue to follow closely.
I recognise that individuals with mental health conditions face particular challenges in the application and assessment process for benefits. Special provisions are in place to support people with a mental health condition in making a claim. For example, individuals may bring a relative, carer or friend to the assessment. I also understand that all health professionals carrying out disability assessments receive specific training in assessing mental health conditions.
The pauses to face-to-face assessments were brought in to safeguard the public and staff, and in recognition of the need for DWP staff to focus on the processing of new claims. I have been reassured by my colleagues in DWP that they are currently reviewing these measures in light of the latest public health advice and will confirm next steps as soon as possible.”
Thank you for contacting me about British Airways and COVID-19, and I do appreciate that this must be an uncertain and worrying time for British Airways staff and their families.
I would encourage airlines to make full use of the unprecedented support made available by the Government to assist with wages and financing. Support is on offer through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (which has now been extended until the end of October), the Time to Pay scheme, the Bank of England's Covid Corporate Financing Facility and other schemes.
The Government has also taken action to help airlines specifically in dealing with the financial pressures they are currently facing. For example, the UK voted in favour of giving airlines the ability to defer payment of charges for European air navigation services for February-May 2020, for 14 months. Given that in February alone the UK's ten largest airlines would have been expected to pay a total of £47.2 million for flights in European airspace, this deferral should go some way to help airlines manage their current financial burdens.
I know that the Government is also in regular contact with airlines, including British Airways. Rest assured that I am monitoring the situation very closely and listening to the views of those here in our constituency. I will convey the concerns fed back to me to my Ministerial colleagues.
State Pension Overseas
The UK State Pension is payable worldwide and is uprated abroad where there is a legal requirement to do so. In some countries, however, there is no agreement with the UK for securing the social security rights of people moving between the two countries. As a result, pensioners who move to these countries still receive the State Pension but do not have their payments uprated as they would be for UK residents. The Department for Work and Pensions endeavours to make this clear to those thinking of moving abroad and publishes guidance on its website.
It has been and remains the policy of successive governments not to enter into new agreements with countries or territories where this would include up-rating pensions in order to contain the long-term cost of the UK social security system.
I appreciate that this response will be disappointing, but it represents the continuation of well-established policy.