The Wokingham Paper

Unemployment worries have tripled in the pandemic, warns Citizens Advice Wokingham

Citizens Advice has seen the number calls for employment worries triple during the pandemic

UNEMPLOYMENT enquiries have tripled during the last five months as a result of the pandemic.

Citizens Advice Wokingham helped 363 people worried about their work between Thursday, March 19 and Wednesday, July 15 — three times the number helped over the same time period last year.

The charity’s chief executive, Jake Morrison said that many people calling were concerned about the terms and conditions of their contract.

He said: “People are phoning up and asking ‘can they make me do this?’ when it comes to their job, especially in regards to working from home or the office.”

And with the Government encouraging people to return to work from Saturday, August 1, Mr Morrison’s team have been explaining people’s rights, and the requirements their boss should meet.

But the most common questions have been about pay and entitlements, explained Mr Morrison. 

Jake Morrison’s volunteers and staff can help with welfare benefits and debts among other topics

“There were lots of questions about this before the furlough scheme had been announced,” he said. “People were asking about sick pay, which can be 50% of their normal salary, and what could happen.”

He said that callers were concerned they would have to take prolonged sick leave if they were affected by Covid-19, and that the halved salary would leave them in a vulnerable position financially. 

The charity is now expecting debt-related worries to increase over the next few months.

“Once the courts and bailiffs start again, we know those calls will rise,” he said. “People’s expenditure is related to their income, and even being paid 80% of their wages on the furlough scheme, that’s less than they were expecting or anticipating.”

Mr Morrison explained that a 20% decrease in pay can have big effects on personal finances.

“People may be facing redundancy, or a job that doesn’t exist anymore, and they’re going to end up in that situation,” he said. “And benefits don’t cover all the costs people have.”

Council will do ‘everything it can’ to tackle unemployment

Wokingham Borough Council leader Cllr John Halsall said that the organisation had been offering support to businesses throughout the coronavirus pandemic including loans and grants. 

“The borough council will do everything it can to alleviate unemployment in the borough,” he told Wokingham.Today. “There are various tools that we can use.”

He also hoped that the council would be able to tap into the planned apprenticeship scheme. 

“I think we could do more — we will do more, once we’ve seen what the Government allows us to do.”

And across all areas, Citizens Advice has seen demand triple, helping 3,000 people from March to July this year.  

Mr Morrision added: “As the pandemic increased, I promised the people of Wokingham Borough that we would be here to help them pick up the pieces. Our dedicated volunteers and staff are continuing to help people find a way forward with their problems. 

“At the start of lockdown the issues were mainly around benefits, and charity support such as food deliveries and prescription collections. Now the issues are growing on employment, including redundancy.

“I’m really sorry that our communities are going through this, our national body at Citizens Advice will be doing all that it can to work with the Government to support people. At our local charity, our volunteers and staff can help you with any issues from welfare benefits and debt to relationships, family and immigration.

“If you’re facing any issues you could do with support for, our team can help you find a way forward. Please contact us.”

For help and advice, call Citizens Advice on: 0300 330 1189

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