Parents, carers and those who were shielding because they are clinically vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic are more than twice as likely to lose their jobs than the general population, research by Citizens Advice suggests.
Almost half (48%) of shielders, and 39% of parents or carers, said they have lost their jobs in the last three months, compared with one in six (17%) of adults of working age, according to a poll of 6,015 people.
Over a quarter (27%) of disabled people said they had experienced or were facing redundancy during the pandemic, rising to 37% of adults whose disabilities affect their daily lives.
Citizens Advice has seen demand for advice on redundancy increased almost seven-fold since February, with advisers giving one-on-one sessions to 6,353 people since the start of the coronavirus lockdown. Citizens Advice’s frontline advisers provided support to 2,508 people with redundancy selection issues in July, compared to 368 in February.
Visits to the Citizens Advice redundancy discrimination web page doubled from 7,000 in May to 14,000 in July, in what the charity believes could be “just the tip of the iceberg.”
Jamie McGlynn, a contact centre manager at Citizens Advice in Manchester, said: “We’re seeing a lot of redundancy issues, but it gives you a sinking feeling when someone who’s been shielding, is a carer or has young kids, tells you they’ve been picked as the first to go.
“People are absolutely wracked with worry. One lady with underlying health conditions told her employer she felt unsafe about returning to work as another worker had Covid symptoms but wasn’t isolating. The next week she had her redundancy notice through.
“We’re retraining some of our advisers on employment rights because we know what we’re seeing now could be just the tip of the iceberg.”
There are six national organisations that enforce workers’ rights, but employees who have lost their jobs or been treated unfairly often can’t call for their situation to be investigated. The charity is calling for a single watchdog to enforce employees’ rights — something the government committed to establishing in 2019.
In the meantime, the charity is calling on the government to give emergency funding to the six existing employment enforcement bodies.
Although workers are protected by law against discrimination, at the moment they have no guarantee these laws will be enforced. While they could take their issue to an employment tribunal, there was already a backlog of 400,000 employment tribunal cases when the coronavirus crisis hit the UK, according to Citizens Advice.
Dame Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice chief executive, said: “Employers face difficult choices but there are worrying signs disabled workers, people who shielded, parents and carers are being pushed to the front of the queue when it comes to redundancy.
“As tough as these times are, they cannot be used as an excuse to break the rules.
“If someone is facing an unfair redundancy, the odds of getting redress under the current system are stacked against them. Workers need a watchdog that will be a one-stop shop to protect their employment rights.”
Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “We know that employers are facing an unprecedented situation and may have to make profoundly difficult and unenviable decisions, but equality law still applies during the crisis, regardless.
“This above all is the time to ensure decision-making is lawful and helps to build a fairer future.”