State support and coronavirus - a trade union guide (June 2020)



[pages 5-7]

State support and coronavirus aims to provide guidance to those dealing with the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis and who need to navigate the complex system of state support, often for the first time.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating impact on workers’ lives and jobs. By early June, the number of officially registered COVID-related deaths had passed 50,000, the highest recorded death toll in Europe. It has killed hundreds of workers in health and social care, transport, retail and other key industries. It has also wreaked havoc on the UK economy, with a deep recession already certain.

Figures released by the HMRC tax department showed 8.7 million jobs had been furloughed (temporarily laid off ) by 1.1 million companies by 31 May 2020, while 2.5 million claims for support had been made to the scheme to help the self-employed by the same date. There have also been unprecedented levels of demand for Universal Credit, the main benefit available to those who lose their jobs or see their earnings disappear. Between January and April 2020, the number claiming Universal Credit increased from 2.8 million to 4.2 million.

In response to this situation, and not least because of trade union demands and campaigning, the government has announced a number of initiatives to keep people in work as well as changes to state benefits. These are explained throughout this booklet.

It sets out the state support available through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CVJRS), under which, employers can claim government grants to cover part of the salary costs of “furloughed” workers up to a maximum of £2,500 a month. It provides details of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) which provides similar support for self-employed people. It also covers changes to the rules for claiming Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), which affect both when it is paid and who pays for it. It also looks at the way that the arrangements for access to other benefits have been affected by the outbreak of coronavirus.

The booklet also sets out the rules and eligibility for claiming the key social security benefits available to those who have lost their jobs or seen their earnings disappear. These include Universal Credit, New Style Jobseeker's Allowance and New Style Employment and Support Allowance.

Understanding how to make use of the support available through all these channels is a crucial challenge for trade unions and their reps, and it is likely to become increasingly important in the months ahead. The job retention scheme runs until the end of October 2020 but will start to pay less from August onwards. Claims for the second and final phase of the income support scheme for the self-employed will open in August. As these schemes wind down, more and more union members will be trying to make use of the benefits system, many for the first time. Reps need to be aware of how the system works in order to give accurate initial advice on members’ entitlements.

This booklet aims to meet this need. It covers:

• the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (the furlough scheme), including the changes taking affect from July onwards;

• the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme;

• benefits for those whose health has been affected by coronavirus or who have had to self-isolate or shield, covering:

◊ Statutory Sick Pay (SSP);

◊ New Style Employment and Support Allowance (New Style ESA); and

◊ Personal Independence Payment (PIP);

• benefits for those who have lost their jobs or seen a sharp fall in their earnings, covering:

◊ Universal Credit; and

◊ New style Jobseeker's Allowance (New Style JSA); and

• help for people whose husband, wife or civil partner dies.

The booklet concentrates on the aspects of state support most relevant to those affected by the coronavirus outbreak, whether this is because they are ill or self-isolating or because they have lost their jobs or seen their earnings fall. It therefore only looks at benefits open to new claimants of working age. Legacy benefits, which are still paid to millions but not open to new claimants, are not examined. It also does not look at state pensions or support to parents or parents to be, which are important parts of the benefits structure but are not specifically linked the coronavirus outbreak.

The booklet aims to give an accurate picture of how the state benefit system works but it is not intended to be a definitive guide to claiming Universal Credit and other state benefits. This is a complex area requiring specialist advice. Organisations and publications providing this specialist advice are listed on pages 51-52.

Before any individual makes a claim through the government website, they should use one or more of the independent online benefits calculators, which have replaced the Benefits Adviser service.

The three benefits calculators listed on the government’s Universal Credit website can be found at:


Policy in Practice


To use these services, you will need accurate information about your:

• savings;

• income, including your partner’s (from payslips, for example);

• existing benefits and pensions (including anyone living with you);

• outgoings (such as rent, mortgage, childcare payments); and

• council tax bill.

This information is copyright to the Labour Research Department (LRD) and may not be reproduced without the permission of the LRD.