Disabled people who use direct payments and wanted to take advantage of the government’s coronavirus job scheme were given just two days to digest vital new guidance.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme allows employers to claim for 80 per cent of their employee’s wages if they have put them on “furlough” – a temporary leave of absence – because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The scheme is being extended until the end of October, but it will close to new entrants from 30 June.
From that point, employers will only be able to claim for employees they have already furloughed for at least three weeks.
This means the deadline for employees to agree with their employers to be placed on the scheme was yesterday (10 June).
But there have been months of confusion over whether disabled people who use direct payments to pay their personal assistants (PAs) can take advantage of the job scheme.
Among those who highlighted this was artist-activist Jess Thom, co-founder of Touretteshero, in a blog she wrote in early April, more than two months ago.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has now finally produced detailed new guidance on how people receiving direct payments could join the scheme – but it was only published on Monday, just two days before the furlough deadline.
The guidance says the scheme should only be used by employers of PAs in “exceptional circumstances”, but it includes a series of examples of situations in which it could and should be used, including when a PA needs to shield or has caring responsibilities, or the disabled person prefers to have support temporarily from a family member instead of a PA.
The disabled people’s organisation Inclusion London said the failure to publish the guidance until just two days before the furlough deadline will have excluded many disabled people who employ PAs from taking advantage of the scheme.
Long-awaited guidance to help users of direct payments cope with the pandemic was published on 7 May but it only included limited information about furloughing PAs through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
It stated that its use should be “minimal” and may only be appropriate in “a small number of cases”, while the disabled PA-employer would “need to explain why this is the case when processing your claim for furlough”.
Monday’s guidance was far more extensive, focused solely on the furlough scheme, and included four detailed case studies.
Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice for Inclusion London, told Disability News Service (DNS): “From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, disabled people have been discriminated against, forgotten, and in some cases abandoned as policymakers have ignored our needs.
“Or, at best, considered them as an afterthought.
“Many disabled people who use direct payments were left in limbo without advice or support.
“The government’s guidance for direct payments users was issued weeks later compared to other social care settings, and many have not heard from their local authorities.”
She added: “People who use direct payments have had conflicting advice on whether they could furlough their staff.
“This is just another egregious example of too little too late and in practice excludes disabled people who employ personal assistants and care workers from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
“We urge the government, therefore, to extend the deadline for direct payments users.”
Thom was another who raised concerns, saying on Twitter: “Once again disabled people haven’t been treated equally.”
A DHSC spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting vulnerable and disabled people through every stage of this pandemic and continue to work across government to ensure that information and guidance is accessible.
“Guidance on furloughing, which applies to direct payment holders as employers, has been publicly available since the scheme was launched.
“We also published tailored FAQs [frequently asked questions] for direct payment holders in early May, and shared an additional resource this week with example scenarios to further illustrate existing policy.”
*For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
Picture: The Department of Health and Social Care
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