Four in ten of those in the shielded group have lost at least 20% of their income since the coronavirus outbreak began.
New research out today by Citizens Advice has also found that more than a quarter have lost 60% of their income or more.
The charity has supported thousands of workers with underlying health conditions, and their family members, who have been denied access to the furlough scheme. Others were initially furloughed but have since been asked to return to frontline roles as shop workers and delivery drivers.
Worryingly, as many as 1 in 10 in the shielded group are working outside of the home despite this potentially putting their health at risk.
The charity is warning that people face a “catch-22” due to a flaw in government guidance which advises 2.5 million people who are “extremely clinically vulnerable” to shield at home until at least the end of June, but does not oblige employers to furlough them.
Analysis of around 2,000 of all employment cases Citizens Advice has seen since 14 April showed over 70% of those who are shielding or are at higher risk from coronavirus – such as those who are pregnant or have diabetes – were not furloughed.
Frontline staff at Citizens Advice say those in the shielded group who are choosing to work outside the home are often doing so because they are fearful they will lose their jobs if they try to negotiate with their employer.
Cases reported by the charity’s advisers include people who have undergone organ transplants or who have serious lung conditions but have been asked to return to work.
With the Chancellor due to set out further details of the Job Retention Scheme, the charity is calling for the most vulnerable workers, including those in the shielded group, or who share a household with someone in the shielded group, to have a right to be furloughed for as long as their work would require them to breach public health advice.
“The shielded are still going to work because they’re worried their boss will let them go if they speak up”
Debbie Nolan, Health Programme Lead at Citizens Advice Liverpool, coordinates calls with people in the shielded group to check on their wellbeing. She said:
“We’ve seen a surge in concerns about health and safety over the past two weeks as people with serious medical conditions, and those they live with, are asked to return to work.
“What’s most worrying is that some people go quiet when you ask them how shielding is going. At that point you start to realise they’re not shielding at all. The shielded are still going to work because they’re worried their boss will let them go if they speak up.
“These stories are absolutely heartbreaking. Many of us take for granted that we can talk to our employer when we have concerns, but not everyone is so lucky. That’s where our staff and volunteers step in.”
Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“The government’s extraordinary interventions have protected millions of jobs and incomes, but some of the most vulnerable have still fallen through the safety net.
“We’re already seeing worrying cases of people being caught in a catch-22 where they have been denied furlough and asked to work in direct contradiction of public health advice. We fear the situation could worsen as more workplaces reopen.
“Unless people who are shielding have a right to be furloughed while their health is at risk, some will continue to face an impossible choice: paying the bills or protecting their health.”