The Government has announced a national lockdown in England.
The Prime Minister has announced a national lockdown – tier 5 – in England from Tuesday, with schools closing until at least 15th February.
Boris Johnson said the decision to go to a national lockdown, similar to the one in March 2020, with people being encouraged to stay at home, work from home unless that is impossible, only go out to exercise once a day and shield if necessary, is to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed within 21 days. All non-essential shops will be closed, but nurseries, childminders and special schools will be able to remain open and existing rules around childcare support bubbles will continue to apply. Early years leaders said they wanted to see the scientific evidence explaining how those working in the early years could keep safe “at a time when those in schools are being told that it is simply to dangerous to go to work”.
HR experts say the guidance on working from home is much clearer than it has been in the last months. Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, said: “People should only leave their home for work where it is ‘unreasonable’ for them to work from home. The knock-on effect of this is that employers will need to consider if any of their employees can reasonably work from home and take steps to implement the change.” He added that those shielding are entitled to receive statutory sick pay (SSP) for the period of time that they cannot work. “There are a number of options open to a company in this situation,” he said. “Those with less than 250 members of staff can still make use of the SSP Rebate Scheme, which funds up to two weeks of SSP for coronavirus absences. Alternatively, the furlough scheme remains an option for all businesses to now use if eligible, even if they have not done so before and will do so until April.”
Scotland earlier announced a national lockdown for the mainland from midnight, with remote schooling for all, except vulnerable young people and children of key workers, from 11th January to 29th January and childcare closed to all but key worker and vulnerable children until 18th January. Meanwhile, Welsh schools will stay closed until 18th January and in Northern Ireland, the executive agreed stricter lockdown measures until 6th February, including a requirement for all employers to conduct a risk assessment where employees are required to work away from their home and a temporary delay to opening schools to face-to-face learning for all pupils.
Boris Johnson also said that the Government is looking at alternatives to GCSEs and A Level exams in the summer. He said the Government allowed children to go to school on Monday because it feels every day in school is important for children. The Labour leader Keir Starmer called for support for working parents and said he supported the Government’s move.
The announcement came as the TUC warned of the impact on working parents and called for parents to be allowed to go on furlough if they can’t work due to homeschooling.
The job retention scheme allows bosses to furlough parents who can’t work due to a lack of childcare. Furlough is available from a minimum of seven days and can also be given on a part-time basis.
The TUC is concerned that not all bosses are aware that caring responsibilities are an acceptable reason to furlough and workingmums.co.uk’s survey data over the last year show that many employers have turned down parents who have asked to be furloughed for childcare reasons.
The TUC is also calling for help for self-employed working parents and says they should have automatic access to the self-employed income support scheme (SEISS) alongside broader improvements to the scheme.
A previous TUC survey in September, when schools were reopening, found 16% of mums – mostly those in low-paid jobs – had to reduce their working hours due to school and nursery closures.
The TUC says it is concerned mums will be disproportionately affected by school closures once again, with single parents being less likely to have someone to share the burden of care with, although they now have access to extended and childcare bubbles.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Without further action, many will have no choice but to cut their hours or take unpaid leave from work. This will lead to further hardship and will hit mums and single parents hardest.
“Employers must do the right thing and furlough mums and dads who can’t work because of childcare responsibilities. And the government should give all parents the right to work flexibly plus ten days’ paid parental leave each year.”
In addition to promoting the right to furlough for childcare reasons, the TUC is calling on the government to introduce a day one right to 10 days’ paid parental leave. Currently emergency parental leave is unpaid. It also wants to see a day one right to flexible work.
Meanwhile, workers have been reminded that they can carry over up to four weeks of holiday into the new holiday year if they have not used them already.
In other news, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has published a list of employers who pay under the minimum wage. In an investigation covering the period between 2016 and 2018, it found that 139 companies failed to pay £6.7m to over 95,000 workers, including Pizza Hut, Tesco and Superdrug. Employers who break the rules must pay what they owe, plus up to 200% of that amount in a fine. Experts have warned that lack of resources and expertise can cause ‘inadvertent’ breaches of the rules.