Experts call for more business support as tougher lockdown restrictions announced

Government urged to further extend furlough and increase help for those self-isolating in addition to new grants for worst-hit industries

Experts have warned that businesses still need further support following the government’s announcement of a third full lockdown in England last night, despite new grants being made available to help the worst-hit sectors.

After the announcement by prime minister Boris Johnson yesterday evening – following a similar one by Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon only hours previously – people in England and mainland Scotland are once again to stay at home except for a number of reasons, including seeking medical care and escaping domestic violence. Wales has been subject to lockdown measures since Boxing Day.

Leaving home for work is also now only permitted “where it is unreasonable for you to do your job from home”; for example, in manufacturing or construction jobs.

The change in guidance will also reintroduce shielding, and individuals considered extremely clinically vulnerable will again receive a letter telling them they should not work outside of their home.

Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, said the new rules provided clearer guidance for employers than was previously the case. “Previous wording [provided] a degree of flexibility to employers around whether staff could work from home and do so effectively,” he said. “Now, the guidance is much clearer.

“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.” Price added that if a business was going to keep staff attending a workplace, they needed to ensure they followed all advice on making it Covid secure.

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

The new restrictions were followed this morning by additional grants from the Treasury to help businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure industries stay afloat. Under the scheme, eligible firms will be able to claim a one-off sum of £9,000 per site they run. £594m of funding will also be made available to companies outside these sectors.

However, Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said more needed to be done to support employers. “The additional grant support announced for the hardest-hit businesses is, of course, crucial. But the government should now commit to extending the furlough scheme to at least the end of June to give employers in all sectors the confidence to continue to protect jobs until the vaccination programme starts to take effect,” he said.

Willmott added that the government needed to ensure anyone asked to self-isolate does not lose out financially and that a temporary provision of two weeks’ paid parental leave should be introduced to help hard-pressed working parents while schools are closed during the lockdown.

Yesterday the TUC urged employers to furlough workers affected by school closures for fears many employees with children would have “no choice” but to take unpaid leave. Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, 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.”