New temporary right to statutory unpaid Emergency Volunteering Leave
The Government is introducing a temporary new right to statutory unpaid Emergency Volunteering Leave via legislation currently going through parliament. The Coronavirus Bill, which will be presented to Pariliament for its 2nd reading on Monday 23 March 2020, makes provision for workers to take up to four weeks unpaid leave with expenses covered by government. This only applies to workers in businesses with less than 10 staff.
Rationale for intervention
Volunteers are an integral and important resource for the health, community health (henceforth referred to collectively as health) and social care systems. With health and social care workforces under increasing pressure, health and social care volunteers play an essential role in the delivery of day-to-day services and are an invaluable resource for local areas to draw upon in the event of emergencies. Volunteers have a wide range of skills and experience that can deployed to undertake a number of regulated and unregulated activities that help to improve the patient experience, tackle health inequalities and support integrated care. These skills are often deployed in community health settings, acute hospital care, mental health care, palliative care, home care and in care homes. A Kings Fund report published in 2013 estimated that the number of volunteers in England alone numbers 3 million and concluded that it was doubtful whether the health and social care systems across the UK could continue to operate without the input of volunteers.
In the event of a severe coronavirus outbreak in the UK, the health and social care systems will come under significant pressure to tackle the outbreak and maintain the delivery of other non-coronavirus related essential services. Not only will demand on health and social care services increase substantially in the event of a severe coronavirus outbreak, but supply will be impacted as a result of coronavirus-related absenteeism within the health and social care workforce. NHS England estimates that in the event of a worst-case scenario the absenteeism rate could be as high as 30% for healthcare workers. In this situation, many essential health and social care services may cease with detrimental impacts on those that need them most.
Whilst volunteers are factored into local contingency plans, ensuring maximum resilience across the health and social care systems at the point of maximum pressure in a severe coronavirus outbreak is a priority. That is why this clause enables appropriate authorities to maximise the pool of volunteers that they can draw on to fill capacity gaps by addressing two primary deterrents to participation: risk to employment and employment rights, and loss of income.
The clause [in the bill], therefore, creates a temporary new form of statutory unpaid leave for employees and workers who wish to volunteer – Emergency Volunteering Leave. The clause also includes certain rights and protections for employees and workers who take Emergency Volunteering Leave, including, for example, the maintenance of terms and conditions of employment during any period of leave and protection from detriment for taking the leave. The clause also provides an obligation on the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to establish a compensation scheme to compensate eligible volunteers for some loss of income and expenses incurred.
Read the full text of the Emergency Volunteering Leave provision in the Coronavirus Bill.