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New coronavirus data shows why workers need more protection from government

Published date
Latest ONS figures on the economic and social impact of Covid-19 confirm our fears that government measures to protect workers don’t go far enough.

Accurate real-time information on the health and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic is difficult to find right now. So too data on how effectively the measures taken to tackle this crisis are working.

In rapidly changing circumstances, data changes rapidly. The Office of National Statics (ONS) is trying to meet this challenge by publishing a series of experimental data to try to capture the impact of the crisis as close to real time as possible.

This new data reinforces widespread fears over the impact of the virus on jobs and household incomes.

It also confirms our concern that support packages announced by the government to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 don’t go far enough, and that too many people are slipping through the net.

That’s why we’re calling for the government to continue job and income protection support for as long as is needed.

And we want that support to go further by ensuring that social security and statutory sick pay are raised to a level people can live on.

What does the latest economic data show?

The new ‘Coronavirus, the UK economy and society, faster indicators’ dataset is based on survey data collated between 23 March and 5 April.

It therefore covers the first two weeks of the lockdown following the launch of the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) and business support package earlier last month (the Self Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) was announced on 26 March).

When asked what measures had been taken to manage their workforce as a result of the coronavirus, 21 per cent of businesses said they had furloughed workers while 70 per cent were working as normal.

At this stage, only 0.4 per cent of businesses said they had made their workers redundant, as the following chart shows.

However, the data also shows that of the businesses still trading, nearly 41 per cent reduced staff levels in the short term and 29 per cent reduced working hours to manage the impact of the crisis.

Wide variation in sectoral impact

Updated industry data lags slightly behind the headline numbers above, covering the period between 9 and 22 March.

Worryingly, it shows that before government measures such as the JRS or lockdown were announced, many industries were already impacted by the crisis and began to reduce staff hours or begin short term lay-offs accordingly.

Unsurprisingly, accommodation and food service industries laid off staff or decreased working hours at significantly higher levels than other sectors (in both cases, over 50% of businesses in this sector took such steps).

Similarly, businesses in the admin and support services sector, the arts, entertainment and recreation sector and the construction sector all reported higher short term lay-offs than average before the lockdown was announced.

Measures taken to manage working during lockdown

Where businesses have been able to continue to trade, 47 per cent have made arrangements for staff to work remotely, while 37 per cent of staff continue to work at their normal place of work.

Again, industry data lags behind the headline numbers. It shows that 48 per cent of businesses across all industries told staff to work from home.

However, for the accommodation and food, health and social work, construction, manufacturing and transport and storage sectors, the level was significantly lower at less than 35 per cent in most cases.

This is because many of these key workers are keeping our economy going and providing vital care on the frontline. That makes them more exposed to the virus and the risk of losing income or their job.

Huge social impact of the Covid-19 crisis

To better understand personal experiences of the crisis, the ONS also collated data on the social impacts of the coronavirus between 27 March 2020 to 6 April.

It shows that the pandemic has already impacted the work of 40 per cent of adults, rising to 47 per cent for those aged 16-69. The top three impacts so far are a decrease in hours, being asked to work from home and health and safety concerns at work.

Nearly 36 per cent of respondents have had their hours reduced, 32 per cent have been asked to work from home and 18 per cent are concerned for their health and safety at work. Worryingly, 5 per cent were made redundant over the survey period.

The impact of coronavirus is already being felt in households, with over 1 in 5 adults saying the crisis is affecting their household finances.

73 per cent say their income has been reduced, over 30 per cent say they are using savings to cover living costs, and over a fifth say they are struggling to pay essential bills.

Workers need greater protection from government

No one knows how long this crisis will go on for, or its long-term impact on the economy, workers and their livelihoods.

That’s why the government must do everything possible to protect jobs and livelihoods during this crisis and beyond.

It’s clear that essential workers need more support and protection. We’re calling for:

  • The Job Retention Scheme to remain in place as long as is needed – and for it to cover short-time working.
  • An increase in the basic rate of universal credit to £260 a week (80 per cent of the average weekly wage at a living wage rate).
  • An increase in the weekly level of statutory sick pay from £94.25 to the equivalent of a week’s pay at the real living wage, as well as the abolition of the lower earnings limit.
  • A taskforce to deal with the crisis that brings together government, unions and businesses.
  • Every worker to get the PPE they need to do their job safely.
Guarantee sick pay for every worker Nearly 2 million UK workers do not qualify for statutory sick pay
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