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Budget’s coronavirus measures “should be permanent”

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Charities say moves to protect workers show “fundamental flaws” of Universal Credit.

Changes announced in the budget to protect workers during the coronavirus crisis should be made permanent, a charity has said.

In his first budget as chancellor, Rishi Sunak announced a £30bn package to tackle the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Measures include a temporary removal of the minimum income floor for Universal Credit claimants, meaning self-employed workers and those on zero-hours contracts will not lose income if they are forced to self-isolate.

Job centre visits have also been suspended, and people will no longer be forced to physically attend a centre to receive their benefits. Statutory sick pay (SSP) has also been made available from the first day off due to illness, rather than the usual fourth.

Other measures aim to relieve financial strains on businesses due to staff illnesses thorugh SSP refunds and a £2bn loan scheme.

Mhoraig Green, Citizens Advice Scotland social justice spokesperson, said: “The changes announced by the chancellor today around statutory sick pay and Universal Credit for self-employed people are welcome and they should be made permanent.

“We are however disappointed not to see changes to allow workers on Universal Credit to keep more of what they earn which could help more people work their way out of poverty – this is a missed opportunity.

“The changes that have been introduced should not be temporary, and instead remain ahead of further reforms to the system to ensure more people don’t have to choose between their bills and their health, and so that those on Universal Credit can keep more of what they earn.”

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland also said the measures, though welcome, highlighted the “fundamental design flaws” in Universal Credit.

Director John Dickie said: ““The new coronavirus emergency measures on statutory sickness pay, employment support allowance and universal credit are welcome but low-income families need support in health and in sickness.

“Universal Credit continues to cause havoc for millions in Scotland and across the UK so it is disappointing that the chancellor brought no substantial permanent reforms to the table today.

“It is within the UK Government’s power to spread opportunity more evenly and to enable struggling families to get on, but unless funding is restored for universal credit and for children’s benefits, investment in infrastructure will have limited effects.”

Sir John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, called for clarity on whether the business support measures would be extended to third sector organisations.

“We urge the government to confirm that the announcements to help businesses weather the storm will be extended to include charities across the UK,” he said.

“Indeed, civil society plays an essential role in many of the aims outlined in the budget despite not being mentioned, from supporting society’s most vulnerable, the levelling up agenda and tackling issues such as homelessness. We hope the government will support their crucial role.”