Anger as bereaved NHS and care families stripped of benefits if they receive coronavirus payout
The latest figures show just 19 families of health and social care staff who have died of Covid-19 related causes have received help under the scheme. (PA)
Ministers have come under fire after it emerged families of frontline workers who have died from coronavirus will lose access to welfare payments if they receive compensation from the Government.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats hit out as it was confirmed that anyone who receives the £60,000 lump sum under the NHS and Social Care Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme will no longer be eligible for a string of social security payments.
The scheme was set up by Matt Hancock at the height of the pandemic in April, with the Health Secretary saying he “felt a deep personal sense of duty that we must care for” the loved ones of NHS and care staff who have died from the disease.
But research by Labour, first reported by The Guardian, has revealed that the five-figure payment is being treated as capital in means-tested benefits.
Current Universal Credit rules mean that anyone with capital or savings of over £16,000 is ineligible to claim support, while claimants with more than £6,000 in the bank face reductions in the amount of state help they can receive.
Capital limits also apply to Housing Benefit, Pension Credit, Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, and Income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “Health and social care workers are putting their lives on the line to care for coronavirus patients, often without the proper equipment, and many have sadly lost their lives as a result.”
He added: “The Government was right to say we must honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
"So it is shocking that families are being forced to choose between accessing social security they are entitled to or the compensation they need.
“This must change so that families can grieve in peace with the full support they have every right to expect.”
The opposition party pointed out the Department for Work and Pensions already disregards similar payments made under the scheme set up to compensate victims of the Windrush scandal, and is calling for a similar approach to be taken for the coronavirus programme.
That was echoed by Liberal Democrat leadership hopeful Layla Moran, who said: "It is utterly shameful that bereaved families of NHS and care workers face losing access to benefits if they receive a payment from the Covid-19 compensation scheme.
"This scheme was set up to provide financial security and comfort to the loveed ones of those who tragically died on the frontline against coronavirus.
"This exercise in penny pinching is completely tone deaf and risks rubbing salt in the wounds of grieving families. The Government must scrap this senseless rule immediately."
More than 540 health and social care workers have died of Covid-19-related causes during the UK pandemic.
But the latest figures — from late May — show that just 19 families have so far qualified for the assurance scheme payouts.
Responding to the criticism, a government spokesperson said: “The death of any healthcare worker is a tragedy.
"Since it began in May, the life assurance scheme has already provided additional financial security to families of frontline NHS and social care workers in England who have died due to coronavirus.
“It has always been one the central principles of Universal Credit that decisions on awarding the benefit should take into account individuals’ existing ability to meet their basic needs, so that we maintain our focus on supporting families in most need.”
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe