The government has been accused of “ignoring” an official recommendation to pay NHS staff who can’t work because they caught long Covid at work.
Ministers have reportedly been told that health workers who end up with long-term disabling conditions from Covid-19 should qualify for industrial injury disablement benefits – but are yet to take action.
The recommendation by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) would see the key workers affected by the virus qualify for £188.60 in weekly benefits, which is higher than the usual rate.
But despite the advice apparently being submitted in July, there has been no change in policy, and the government says it is yet to consider the recommendations.
Labour on Tuesday urged ministers to “clarify” their position and accused them of abandoning people who put their lives on the line during the pandemic.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner accused the government of “sitting on their hands whilst working people suffer”.
“Health and social care workers put their lives on the line for us during the pandemic, and they deserve answers,” she said.
“The Government must come clean on whether its own advisory body has recommended Covid-19 be classified as an occupational disease.”
In July, the Pharmaceutical Journal reported that the IIAC had drawn up a recommendation relating to Covid-19 which had been “submitted to the DWP for consideration”.
The submission covered “certain disabling conditions which persist in people who have had Covid-19 and who work in the health and social care sector”.
Industrial injury disablement benefit is paid to people who become ill or are disabled because of an accident or certain diseases contracted at work.
It is paid to people who, for instance, contract lung diseases because they worked with asbestos, or go deaf from working with loud heavy machinery.
The Trades Union Congress has argued that Covid-19 should be classified as an occupational disease to “formally recognise the higher risk in certain jobs”.
Though Covid-19 is in most people a short illness, one in 10 people with the disease have continued to experience symptoms beyond 12 weeks, according to a study by the British Medical Journal.
“This is just the latest example of a long tradition of the Government seeking to avoid public scrutiny,” shadow DWP secretary Jonathan Ashworth said.
“The Government must make clear the guidance they have received and explain why they have delayed releasing the advice of their own scientific advisory body.”
Mr Ashworth said that health and social care workers “stood up for us throughout the pandemic” and deserved support.
In a letter to the DWP secretary Chloe Smith, the Labour politicians say the government “appears to have ignored” the advice of the official advisor council.
A DWP spokesperson said: “The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, in its independent advisory capacity to the DWP on Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, has prepared a Command Paper – Covid-19 and Occupational Impacts.
“This has not been published, but once it is, the DWP will carefully consider its recommendations and respond in due course.”