Bereaved families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 while working on the frontline will be stripped of their social security payments, it has been revealed.
Research by the Labour Party shows families who have received the £60,000 payment under the NHS and Social Care Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme will not be eligible for Universal Credit, Housing Benefit or Pension Credit.
Jonathan Reynolds MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “Health and social care workers are putting their lives on the line to care for coronavirus patients, often without the proper equipment, and many have sadly lost their lives as a result.
“The Government was right to say we must honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. So it is shocking that families are being forced to choose between accessing social security they are entitled to or the compensation they need.
“This must change so that families can grieve in peace with the full support they have every right to expect.”
Labour said that despite the UK recording among the highest number of COVID-19 health and social care worker deaths in the world, with at least 540 workers having from died from the virus, only 19 families had benefited from the scheme.
Labour is calling for payments made to people to be disregarded in the same way as other compensation schemes such as the Windrush Compensation Scheme or those who hold a Victoria or George Cross.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Taking away the income of families in need makes no sense. These payments are meant to provide financial security when it’s needed most, not an excuse to make savings elsewhere. Ministers must fix this to ensure the loved ones of health and care workers who lost their lives are provided for properly.”
Lola McEvoy, GMB Key Worker Organiser, said: “It is beyond belief that these grieving families will be denied access to the safety net, so many rely on, should they apply for the life assurance scheme. GMB Union fought hard to force Government to include the families of our social care workers in this scheme, and to punish them again by removing their safety net is the ultimate disrespect.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The death of any healthcare worker is a tragedy. Since it began in May, the life assurance scheme has already provided additional financial security to families of frontline NHS and social care workers in England who have died due to coronavirus.
“It has always been one the central principles of Universal Credit that decisions on awarding the benefit should take into account individuals’ existing ability to meet their basic needs, so that we maintain our focus on supporting families in most need.”