HEALTH and social care employees who received temporary Covid-19 enhancement payments have expressed concerns that existing social security payments could be impacted.
Clarity has been sought on whether the goodwill payments which would temporary boost income could impact benefits that are already received by healthcare workers.
UUP Slieve Croob Councillor Alan Lewis has asked the Department for Communities whether its Minister intends to introduce measures to ensure these temporary payments will not affect existing benefits.
The local political representative said he was contacted by a resident who works in a care home, whose boss kindly offered the workforce an enhancement payment as recognition for staff dedication and commitment.
He continued: “I was shocked to be advised that those who are in receipt of carers’ allowance will have their benefit cut if they accept this payment, which would effectively put them over the limit of what they were allowed to earn.
“At a time when we should be standing behind our dedicated health and social care staff, offering them all the support they deserve, I am shocked by the Department’s dismissive response.
“Effectively saying that those most in need aren’t worthy of support, frankly I’m disgusted.”
A spokesperson from the Department for Communities said the Department is committed to supporting people at this difficult time of the coronavirus crisis.
The spokesperson added: “We are constantly reviewing the situation to ensure we can meet the needs of all those who need to use our services.
“The government response to Covid-19 continues to evolve and the Department’s website is kept up to date with changes and easements made to all benefits in response to the pandemic.
“The Department recognises and values the vital contribution made by all carers in supporting some of the most vulnerable in our community.
“Both the Executive and Minister Hargey have made clear they will do whatever it takes to support people affected by Covid-19 and have been clear in their intention that no-one should be penalised for doing the right thing.”
However, the spokesperson said some benefits are linked to the number of hours worked whereas others are linked to the income earned.
Jobseekers Allowance (old style and new style) and Income Support both have the entitlement condition that the claimant is not working 16 hours or more per week.
Universal Credit has been designed to simplify the relationship between benefits and earnings so that it pays for someone to take a job or increase the hours they work and as such, there is no hour limit like there is for Income Support and Jobseekers Allowance.
This means that payments are based on earnings rather that the number of hours worked. Universal Credit payments adjust automatically, on a monthly basis, as earnings change.
Councillor Lewis said those who care for close family members and rightly claim their entitlements should not be affected.
He continued: “However, some are in the unique situation that they care for people both at work and at home, which at this worrying time I have no doubt carries extra burden, increased responsibilities and heightened stress.
“The coronavirus pandemic has been challenging, it has pushed society to its limit, damaged our economy, broken family bonds and deeply impacted upon the lives of many right across this district. I can only imagine the impact it has had on our hospitals and social care staff.”
Councillor Lewis said himself and his party will continue to lobby for and support carers in the local district and ensure they are looked after.