What support has been available during COVID-19?
In our hour of greatest need, the NHS and social care system continues to be there for all of us. But who has been there for them?
In April, the NHS launched a hotline to support and advise healthcare staff during the coronavirus pandemic. Offering support outside the workplace, volunteers from charities have been listening to concerns and offering psychological support where possible.
The public have also been doing their best to provide support where possible. People have fundraised, celebrities have given huge sums of money and businesses have been giving freebies – there are loads of examples of how acts of kindness have been trying to lift the spirits of healthcare workers and make their lives easier and safer.
In The World Health Organization’s messages to support the mental health of healthcare workers back in March, they suggested the following:
- Feeling under pressure is quite a normal feeling in the current situation. But if you do feel stressed, it is not a reflection that you can't do your job or that you are weak. During this time, it's as important to manage your mental health as it is to manage your physical health.
- Take care of yourself. Use helpful coping strategies such as getting enough sleep and rest during work or between shifts, eating a healthy diet, keeping up exercise and staying in touch with family and friends.
The following may help healthcare workers and their families through any financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.
Statutory sick pay
From 13 March, employees have been able to claim statutory sick pay (SSP) if they’ve been unable to work due to COVID-19. This includes those who are too ill to work, those who are self-isolating due to symptoms, and those in the ‘shielding’ group who have to stay at home due to their vulnerable status.
With SSP, you can get up to £94.25 a week. It can be paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks and will start on day one of you being unable to work, rather than the usual day four. From 20 March, people have been able to get an isolation note instead of a doctor's note by going to NHS 111 online and filling out a form.
For more information, check out GOV.UK.
You could also apply for Universal Credit. It’s a payment designed to help with your living costs if you’re on a low income, out of work or you cannot work. You could receive it on top of SSP as a top-up benefit, and you could also get it if you’ve been furloughed and are on a low income. The government has made temporary arrangements for those affected by COVID-19 to get the support they need, but they have seen huge increases in claims so it may take a while to process.
To find out more, check out GOV.UK’s guide to understanding Universal Credit.
For many people, the mortgage is the biggest monthly outgoing. So if you have been experiencing difficulties trying to make these repayments because of COVID-19, you may be able to take a ‘mortgage holiday’ for three months. This basically means your repayments will be paused during that time, but you will still have to pay the same amount eventually.
Mortgage lenders have agreed with the government to offer these repayment holidays to any household facing financial hardship because of the current times. The best thing you can do is to contact your lender to find out a solution that works for you.
Landlords can also make use of a mortgage holiday if their tenants are having money worries too.
There’s additional reassurance for tenants, as the government has confirmed that you will not face the threat of eviction for at least three months if you’re having financial difficulties.
The job retention scheme
You may have heard of friends or family being furloughed, or perhaps you’ve been furloughed yourself. The scheme ensures businesses do not have to face tough decisions about losing staff. They’ve been able to claim back up to 80% of a furloughed employee’s wages, with a cap of £2,500 a month.
If you’ve been placed on the job retention scheme, you’ll have been asked to sign a form by your employer – but you don’t have to do anything else. You’ll still be paid by them. If the £2,500 cap is less than your usual pay, some employers have been making up the 20% difference. But they’re not required to do this.
The scheme has recently been extended to the end of October 2020, but companies will soon have to start contributing more At the time of writing, the furlough scheme will also allow staff to return part-time from August.
Support for the self-employed
Currently, the coronavirus support package for the UK’s self-employed workers is a taxable grant based on previous monthly earnings over the last three years. You could get up to 80% of earnings, and the grant is paid out in a single instalment covering 3 months. It is capped at £7,500 altogether. To qualify, you also have to have earnings of less than £50,000 a year.
Check your eligibility with GOV.UK.
Death in service
In recognition of the increased risk faced by staff during the crisis, a new life assurance scheme has been launched for eligible frontline health and care workers.
The families of workers who die from coronavirus in the course of their frontline essential work will receive a £60,000 lump sum. It’s worth roughly twice the average pension pay for NHS staff.
Support from nursing charities
There are many charities accepting applications for grants during the pandemic. For example, the Cavell Nurses' Trust offers support for short-term financial emergencies, including many situations which may arise as a result of coronavirus, including needing to self-isolate or if a partner’s income has been affected. Find out details on how to apply on their website.
You could also explore other charitable grants using Turn2us, which searches for benefits and grants you may be eligible for.