Budget 2020: Initial analysis from Business Disability Forum

11 March 2020

We welcomed the consideration which had been given in today’s budget to the impact of the coronavirus on businesses and employees.

Westminster Abbey - aerial shotChancellor Rishi Sunak delivered a budget that, in his words, “protects and delivers against coronavirus”. He acknowledged that there is already undoubtedly a “temporary disruption to the economy” and offered “a bridge for businesses” so that this does not become a permanent disruption. This is therefore a short term (“temporary, timely and targeted”) budget.

Supporting workers

The Chancellor made a commitment to supporting the finances of those who cannot work, and those who have been advised not to work. As announced last week, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will be paid from Day 1, not Day 4. It will also be paid for people who are well, but who are told to self-isolate. People will not have to attend their GP to obtain a sicknote, but will be able to get it via 111.

The assistive technology and ergonomic needs of disabled workers who are told to self-isolate need to be considered by employers to ensure they are not making disabled staff work in a way in which adjustments have not been considered and implemented.

Those who are not eligible for SSP (such as those working within the gig economy) will have quicker and “easier” access to the relevant benefits. However, due to isolation and restricting in-person contact, Sunak announced that accessing benefits will be done by phone and online; formats we know disabled people struggle with.

We therefore urge the Government that alternative means are made available and Job Centre staff are equipped to meet the needs of any person who cannot apply in these ways.

We would particularly urge that remote British Sign Language platforms, as an example, are considered alongside “phone and online” applications. We would have liked to hear that non-physical ways of accessing benefits had been reviewed to ensure no one experiences barriers to gaining benefits more quickly.

We would also ask the Government to consider how it will protect people who are most susceptible to the coronavirus from catching the virus - such as those with long term conditions. As highlighted in The Guardian, today, much of the current messaging is insensitive and unhelpful to people who have pre-existing conditions.

Small businesses

There was acknowledgement that the “best way to protect people is to protect their jobs”. However, as Sunak stated, the cost of people having time off due to coronavirus, either because they are self-isolating or because they are unwell, is “borne by businesses”. As this cost will of course hit small businesses the hardest, businesses with fewer than 250 employees who are paying SSP to employees who cannot work due to the coronavirus will be refunded the amount paid to employees in full for up to 14 days.

We were pleased to see acknowledged that cashflow may also be affected for small businesses, as small businesses often tell us this.

Measures to help small business cashflows through help with business rates were announced. Companies with a rateable value of less than £51,000 will have their business rates suspended and there are also opportunities for small businesses with rateable values of less than £15,000 to apply for £3,000 cash grants.

Further education

A further £1.5 billion to improve” the entire” further education estate. This is good news and we hope accessibility and inclusive design will be central to the essential criteria for spend and procurement decisions on this project. In our Election 2019 ‘Manifesto for Inclusive Change’, we stated how important inclusion and accessibility are in the education setting. They play a vital role in supporting and equipping disabled people for a strong and deserved employment and career trajectory which also contributes to closing the disability employment gap long term.

Social care

Many issues, such as social care, have been temporarily parked. We look forward to hearing more on that in the near future and, particularly, how the Government will address the funding and staffing issues facing the sector.

Disability employment gap

This was also not covered into today’s budget. But again, we await to hear Government plans to close the gap and the opportunities which will be created for disabled people as part of the ‘national jobs miracle’ announced today.

These are our initial reactions to this afternoon’s announcements, but our policy team will continue to analyse in the coming days. We will keep you posted on our findings.