Covid-19 FAQs: Shielding and employment

These frequently asked questions and answers have been prepared jointly by Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) and CLIC Sargent. They are based on questions we have received directly from parents and young people. Information is correct at the time of publication (15 April 2020) although please bear in mind that things are changing quickly.

I received a text/letter identifying me/my child as an extremely vulnerable person. I don’t think this applies to me/my child. What are the criteria?

Some people will have received a letter and may feel it doesn’t apply to them/their child. The truth is the systems to get the letters out to everyone in time had to work very quickly, and it may depend on how your hospital has coded you/your child’s illness.

CLIC Sargent and CCLG recommend you follow shielding advice if you or your child falls into any of the following categories:

  • Undergoing active chemotherapy for any diagnosis
  • Receiving treatment for leukaemia or lymphoma
  • Who have received a donor stem cell transplant (allogeneic transplant) in the last 24 months (may move into the vulnerable group after this time – see the full guidance for further information)
  • Who have received their own stem cells back (autograft transplant) in the last 12 months
  • Receiving immunotherapy, including CAR-T patients
  • Receiving other antibody treatments for cancer
  • Receiving targeted cancer treatments (these usually end with –nib, for example dasatinib, crizotinib)

The list is cancer specific, however other conditions would also classify you as extremely vulnerable.

Full COVID-19 guidance for children and young people undergoing treatment for cancer (CCLG)

If you are in the vulnerable group, you do not necessarily have to shield, but you do need to follow the UK social distancing measures that everyone is currently following.

If in doubt, speak to your hospital team for specific guidance – some people have already been contacted by their hospital team to say their child does not in fact have to shield, so if you’re in any doubt, do check.

What’s the difference between shielding, self-isolating and social distancing?

At the moment the United Kingdom is in ‘lockdown’ and everyone must stay at home. This is to limit the spread of the virus. Guidance states that individuals should only leave their home for food (as infrequently as possible), health reasons, one form of exercise per day, or work, but only if you cannot work from home. If you do go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times unless they are members of your immediate household. You must wash your hands often for 20 seconds, and cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.

Social distancing incorporates all of these measures, however if you, or a member of your household develops symptoms of coronavirus, you should self-isolate.

Self-isolation means staying at home for seven days from when your symptoms started. If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus, all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill.

 

 

 

If you or your child are classified as extremely vulnerable, you should adopt shielding measures. Shielding means not leaving your home for at least 12 weeks apart from essential medical visits to the hospital/home visits from nurses as advised by your own team. It also means you should not attend any gatherings, go out for shopping, and use the phone/internet/social media to connect with friends and family/arrange home deliveries of food and medication. This includes work. Other people in your house don’t need to shield, but should follow strict social distancing with the person shielding

We understand that that guidance will be nearly impossible if you have a young child who requires shielding. The government advice on shielding is focused on adults. If shielding is impossible for you and your family, we advise you try to follow the guidance as best as you can and encourage everyone in the household to regularly wash their hands, avoid touching their face and clean frequently touched surfaces instead.

I’m shielding – am I entitled to time off work?

If you have been advised to shield yourself by your medical team it is because you have been classified as extremely vulnerable. This means you are more likely to become very ill if you get coronavirus. You should stay at home and your employer should support you to do so. You can request to be placed on furlough through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme if you cannot work from home.

Under the scheme, an employer can receive a grant from the government to cover 80% of the cost of an employee’s regular wages up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. The furlough period can be backdated to begin from March 1st. Your employer can choose to top up your wages to their original amount, but there is no legal requirement for them to do this. You must have been on your employer’s PAYE payroll as at 19th March, and you will still be required to pay Income Tax, National Insurance contributions and any other deductions that they would normally make.

For some employees a possible option may be to take sick leave, if their doctor will sign them off sick. Your employment contract may give you full pay for a period while you are off sick; otherwise you should be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay of £95.85 per week.

People classified as vulnerable don’t need to shield, but should practice strict social distancing.

I’m shielding my child – am I entitled to paid time off work?

If your child has been advised to shield by your medical team it is because they have been classified as extremely vulnerable.

The guidance on the government website is now reasonably clear: if you are unable to work, including working from home, because you have caring responsibilities arising from coronavirus such as shielding a child, you can ask your employer to place you on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (also called furloughing). You can read more about eligibility here. Although your employer doesn’t have to furlough you, we’ve seen quite a few people who’ve been supported by their employers, once they’ve shown them the guidance.

Under the scheme, an employer can receive a grant from the government to cover 80% of the cost of an employee’s regular wages up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. The furlough period can be backdated to begin from March 1st. Your employer can choose to top up your wages to their original amount, but there is no legal requirement for them to do this. You must have been on your employer’s PAYE payroll as at 19th March, and you will still be required to pay Income Tax, National Insurance contributions and any other deductions that they would normally make.

My income has reduced – am I entitled to any benefits?

If your income drops (either because you aren’t eligible for the furlough scheme or because you’re simply getting paid less) you may be able to claim Universal Credit, so long as your savings and other capital are less than £16,000. Universal Credit should be claimed jointly with your live-in partner, and their income and/or capital is also taken into account. (If you are already getting tax credits or Housing Benefit, take advice before claiming Universal Credit, as a UC claim will bring these other benefits to a permanent end.)

An alternative to Universal Credit could be New Style Employment Support Allowance (ESA). This is a contribution-based benefit available to people who cannot work, and have a consistent record of making National Insurance contributions over the last two tax years. It is claimed by an individual rather than a couple, and is worth an initial £74.35 per week if you are 25 or over and £58.90 if you are under 25. A sick note isn’t required if you are self-isolating. You can claim new style ESA if you are caring for a child who is isolating in accordance with government guidance.

I am shielding my child and I’m a keyworker – am I entitled to time off work?

Key workers can now be furloughed with the agreement of their employer, but the government has indicated that the Job Retention Scheme will not be used by many public sector organisations, as the majority of public sector employees are continuing to provide essential public services or contribute to the response to the coronavirus outbreak.

In some circumstances sick leave may be a possibility, if your employer is flexible and/or if your doctor will give you a sick note. If this isn’t an option, you should explain to your employer that you’re shielding a child, and ask them to make adjustments. This may include finding you somewhere to stay near to your place of work, rather than at home. Understandably, this may cause a distress as it means you are unable to see your child. It’s a very sad and difficult situation. Think creatively about how can maintain regular contact with your child using telephone, FaceTime, skype etc. Other things you could do to stay connected include playing online games together, reading to one another, setting each other challenges to complete or making fun videos to share with each other.

I’m self-employed – what support is available for me?

Many self-employed people who have had to close their business (or have simply had their income reduced) due to coronavirus will be able to claim a grant worth 80% of past trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next 3 months. To be eligible you will need to have been trading in the 2018-19 tax year, and must have submitted a tax return for that year by 23rd April. Your past trading profits must also be no more than £50,000, and must represent more than half of your total income.

You won’t be able to apply if you trade through a limited company, although if you pay yourself a PAYE salary you should be covered by the Job Retention Scheme for up to 80% of that salary (but not for any dividends).The first payments under the scheme are likely to be made in June. In the meantime you may be able to apply for benefits such as Universal Credit or New Style Employment Support Allowance.

I’m on a zero hours contract – am I entitled to any support?

Employees on zero hours contracts who were on their employer’s payroll on 28th February 2020 are eligible to be furloughed under the Job Retention Scheme.

If your pay varies and you’ve been employed (or engaged by an employment business in the case of agency workers) for a full year, employers will claim for the higher of either:

  • The amount you earned in the same month last year
  • An average of your monthly earnings from the last year.

If your pay varies and you’ve been employed for less than a year, employers will claim for an average of your regular monthly wages since you started work.

Zero hours employees are also eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, so long as they have been earning around £120 per week in the period leading up to them going off sick, and of course can claim benefits such as Universal Credit on the same basis as others.

I can’t completely shield myself/my child and this is affecting my mental health – what can I do to help myself?

It’s very distressing to feel you’re not protecting your child enough against covid-19, but the fact is that some people will have to go out to work while shielding a child. It’s important to remember that the government guidance around shielding has been particularly focused on adults. There is currently very little evidence on the impact of shielding children. Follow the guidance as far as possible, but if you have to work or have to go to the shops to buy food take all the precautions you can – including frequent handwashing and social distancing as far as possible. You may also want to consider washing your work clothes when you get home and having a shower. There’s little evidence at the moment to suggest that coronavirus can live on fabric, but it’s something you could do if it helps you feel better about the situation.

 

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