Bedford council workers turn to food banks after Long Covid sick pay ends

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Bedford Borough Hall

The Unite union has said that two Bedford Borough Council care workers, suffering with Long Covid, are relying on food banks after their sick pay allowance ran out.

The two members of staff – with over 30 years’ service between them – contracted Covid at the end of 2020 in an outbreak that resulted in 30% of their staff group testing positive for the virus.

Both were then diagnosed with Long Covid and have been off sick since, however, their absences have exceeded their sick pay allowance, so they are no longer being paid.

They are both now under the care of a specialist Covid clinic.

Their union, Unite, has described their treatment as ‘heartless’ but Bedford Brough Council has defended its position.

Unite regional officer Richard Gates said: “We will not allow this heartless treatment of our members to stand, as they are being penalised for becoming sick from long Covid after years of dedicated service.

“The impact of long Covid has resulted in both members having days when they can’t even get out of bed, brain fog, no energy, and breathlessness, so the last thing they need on top of this is the stress and worry of having no money and the prospect of being taken through the sickness absence procedure over being off from work.

“It is not right that they are relying on food banks and benefits to survive.

The Union suggests that there is a discretion given to the council by the ‘Green Book’ national agreement – but says council bosses are refusing to exercise this discretion for these employees.

“It’s a shame that they do not work at the nearby hospital, where the Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust do the right thing by paying staff off work with long Covid full pay in recognition of the effects of this little known and draining condition,” said Mr Gates.

“It is about time the council treated its employees the same way that our local NHS trust does.”

A Bedford Borough Council spokesperson told the Bedford Independent: “The Council is unable to comment on specific cases and this is being managed through our internal processes.

“However, the Council’s policy not to extend sickness pay is to ensure fairness and consistency at all times in managing cases of sickness absence, regardless of the reason.

“Long Covid cases are managed with sensitivity taking into account the medical evidence, advice from Occupational Health and speaking with the employee.”

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