Letters to the Fenland Citizen editor – November 11, 2020
Scheme now more generous to employers
Under the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme, furlough was introduced back in March to prevent mass redundancies.
The Government had resisted repeated calls from unions, business groups and other political parties to extend the scheme.
It was due to be replaced by the Job Support Scheme on November 1.
But as part of the announcement of month-long lockdown, including the closure of pubs, restaurants, gyms and non-essential shops, furlough was extended until December. Employees will not notice any difference in their pay packet, but the scheme has become more generous for employers.
In recent months, firms have had to top up furloughed wages by 20% and since July, employers have been able to bring back employees part-time, then furlough them for the rest. This will continue.
Employees can be furloughed regardless of whether they are on full-time, part-time, agency, flexible or zero-hour contracts, but they must have been on the payroll by October 30, 2020.
They can also take on other jobs while placed on leave, if it does not breach the rules of their existing contract.
While the Government updates the system, employers will submit their wage claim to the Government and be refunded afterwards. After that, they will be paid upfront to cover the cost.
By October 18, the cost to the taxpayer was £41.4bn, with costs expected to rise to about £50bn, with the Government paying 60%.
Now the state will put in the full 80%, with the employer only covering pension and National Insurance contributions. An estimated two million people were still on furlough at the end of October.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the furlough will “continue to be available wherever it is needed”.
The Government will also give firms up to £3,000 per month under the Local Restrictions Support Grant if their premises is forced to close; £1,000 for every furloughed employee kept on until at least the end of January; £1,500 for every out-of-work 16-24 year-old given a ‘’high- quality’’, six-month work placement for every under-25 apprentice taken on until the end of January, or £1,500 for over-25s.
A grant available to self-employed people affected by coronavirus has also been doubled to 40% of profits, with a maximum grant of £3,750 over a three-month period.
Furlough will end in December but if a businesses has to close due to local restrictions, workers will be paid 67% of their wages.
Firms that can stay open, but only have enough work for employees to return part-time, will also be eligible for help.
Staff will have to be paid by their employer to work a minimum 20% of their hours per month.
The employer must pay an extra 4% of total wages to cover some of the hours not worked and the Government will pay 49% of the total salary to cover hours not worked.
So, overall, the employee would get at least 73% of salary, while the maximum contribution the Government will make is £1,541.75 of £2,083.33 a month. Employers will not have to pay towards an employee’s salary.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this letter was received, the Government has extended the furlough scheme until the end of March.
Good work is drowned out by the bad
Your published reply to my letter seemingly confirms you are happy to publish Tory propaganda without checking facts.
You will note I said your article reads like a press release, not that it was a press release.
If you take the High Street as an example, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, have been wasted on projects that have been abandoned which balances what you see as a good news story for Wisbech. The work individuals from Wisbech Town Council have done during the pandemic is drowned out by non-related activity, such as the market development and the Castle.
There are many good news stories about Wisbech but the film is very selective and spins failures into success, a view which some basic fact checking would support. Indeed, the High Street Project (Fenland District Council, not Wisbech Town Council) has bailed out a number of absentee landlords at huge cost to the public purse in the hope that accommodation will result from the rebuilds.
In the case of the property called Wisbech Castle, the town council accounts show massive debts and eye-watering utility bills for a mainly unoccupied building.
These are not good news stories but examples of public spending that need far more scrutiny of the type that responsible journalists used to undertake.
I acknowledge that your paper prints good items about groups like Wisbech in Bloom, 50 Backpacks and other voluntary groups that do so much for our town.
They carry out their activities without public funding and without exaggerating their worth to hold public office. The same cannot be said of Fenland District Council and Wisbech Town Council.
Criticism of video was quite harsh
I think Robert Smith (Letters, November 4) is being a bit harsh in his criticism of Wisbech Town Council for taking part in the county council-financed video promoting Wisbech.
Coun Sam Hoy and town clerk Terry Jordan are just trying to do a good job in very difficult circumstances, with limited resources.
Mr Smith implies that the money spent on the video by the county council would be better spent on supplying food vouchers for hungry children during the school holidays.
It is not a case of either-or. The county council should do both by setting a needs budget and calling for the return of the money kept from the council by central government since 2010.
Wisbech needs all the help it can get as it has the highest unemployment rate, and the highest rate of people in receipt of disability benefits, of any town in East Anglia, apart from Great Yarmouth.
Kent used to be known as the garden of England. Now it is Fenland, centred around Wisbech.
With automation and the mass introduction of cheap robotics, manual jobs in food processing and food production will rapidly disappear.
The running down of the Isle Campus is a false economy. Instead the Isle Campus needs to become a University Technical College, similar to that at Peterborough Regional College.
Such a University Technical College can train the robot and laser technicians which will be in high demand in the food processing factories and on the land.
At the same time, the A47 needs to be dualled as soon as possible. Similarly, the modernising of the Ely railway junction bottleneck would allow fast connection by rail between Wisbech and Cambridge.
The video in promoting Wisbech will be a great help in encouraging businesses to invest in Wisbech and create the highly paid full-time permanent jobs the people of Wisbech desperately need.
Beating the pitfalls of claiming
I would like to say thank you to HM Courts & Tribunals Service for awarding me an ‘Ongoing Award’ which has brought me great relief and comfort.
May I also take this opportunity to conclude with some final advice to other claimants, from my own experiences and learning curve, by quoting from the DWP training manual.
Quote: “Where a health professional considers a claimant’s condition or impairment is stable and unlikely to improve or deteriorate, there is no medical justification for a review assessment. The case manager can give an ongoing award.
“Where a claimant’s needs are likely to continue and increase (unlikely to change) due to a progressive illness, the case manager can give an ongoing award.”
Just remember, they will contact you again in ten years’ time to make sure you are receiving all your entitlements.
When you fill out your review form, do not follow the instruction at the top of page 12 , section 3, which said: “also use this section to tell us if things have stayed the same.”
The box sections are only for changes. So with no tick boxes you have to write across the bottom of the page: “My condition has stayed the same.”
Ultimately, your claim is rejected because you haven’t provided adequate information, despite the legal onus being on the
Department for Work and Pensions to obtain your medical records and prove you’re not entitled to your benefits. If you have a mental health condition, you are given ‘grace’, but if you fail to complete the form with evidence on time, the DWP just rejects your claim for late returning.
Always remember that if you stop taking your medication, it is not always to cure your diagnosed health condition but could be, for example, to sedate a symptom like violent outbursts?
Just because you stop taking your medications, it doesn’t mean you are no longer entitled to receive your benefits, despite the DWP’s concerted enthusiasm to pretend it does!
If you are satisfied with your current award, I have found it very useful to write the following statement at the end, on the last additional page before signing your name: “My situation and circumstances remain the same. Despite small fluctuations, functional effects and deterioration attributed and associated with my diagnosed health conditions, my claim and entitlements remain the same.
Legal representation doesn’t practically exist since Legal Aid funding was axed and the legal profession was instructed not to get involved with welfare benefit cases.
So you will have to prepare your own evidence and represent yourself at court as a “litigant in person’.
Thank you everyone for putting up with my mantra on this issue for years.
Now I have secured my own ongoing award, I wish you all the best in pursuing your own in the future.