Branch Secretary :

Coronavirus: testing must include homelessness workers

Deadly consequences


Working as a rep in a homelessness organisation I welcome the government’s plans to expand testing to cover frontline social care staff. However, it needs to explicitly include frontline homelessness staff if we are to prevent unnecessary deaths. Unite reps have called for an extension of testing and we welcome the call for clarity on this issue by Homeless Link.


As more evidence emerges that prolonged exposure to COVID-19 makes it more likely you may suffer more severe or even deadly consequences of the virus, my colleagues have become increasingly worried.  Facilitating mass testing will help staff to self-isolate quickly and reduce their exposure.


Employment Act disputed


Just as important as this however is the increased protection it provides clients. People who are homeless some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19 as they are more likely to have poor health and underlying conditions that place them at risk. For a keyworker in a hostel it is normal to speak to many clients in one day. Studies have shown that the large majority of those infected are asymptomatic, staff may be unwittingly exposing vulnerable people to the virus.


The deadly consequences of this are already being seen in care homes across the UK where up to 6,000 people are estimated to have died. This is why it is concerning to see management failing to provide PPE or enact proper health and safety procedures at St Mungo’s, one of the UK’s biggest homelessness organisations. Disgracefully, St Mungo’s management have chosen to dispute the applicability of Section 44 of the 1996 Employment Rights Act which protects workers who refuse to put themselves danger. St Mungo’s Unite reps are right to make it clear to management that the legislation does apply and that Unite will back workers who are forced to relay on it.


Unclear guidance


St Mungos have also refused to schedule regular meetings with the union because they are in dispute on another issue. Rather than disputing this, St Mungo’s management would be better occupied getting vital PPE to their staff and making sure that their message to managers is clear about the need for safe working.


Proper health and safety procedures combined with regular testing are needed to help prevent the death toll seen in care homes being repeated in the homelessness sector and ensure the safety of workers and clients. It is ridiculous that the guidance is unclear - stating it applies to ‘frontline local authority staff’ who are working with ‘the homeless and rough sleepers’. As the majority of work with people experiencing homelessness is undertaken by the voluntary sector this would provide little support for some of the most vulnerable in society.


This guidance needs to be changed to explicitly include frontline workers in the voluntary sector. Only by combining mass testing with proper health and safety procedures can we make these environments safe for clients and staff.


Jack Jeffery, branch secretary.


April 19th 2020


Before Posting

We welcome debate and discussion on our website, but we also want an open, respectful, inclusive space in which forms of abuse or personal attack will not be tolerated. Comments will be moderated and will be removed if they are found to be unduly offensive. You should also be very careful in posting information about your employer. Employers do visit the website and if you think a comment could get you into trouble for releasing confidential or sensitive information, or for bringing the employer into disrepute, please do not post it. It remains your individual responsibility to ensure that what you post is appropriate. Please therefore just give a moment's thought to what you are saying. The types of comments that are likely to be moderated are:

  • Personal abuse or attacks on an individual.
  • Information which breaches another person's right to confidentiality.
  • The use of offensive language, including swear words, or language which is racist, sexist, or otherwise breaches equalities standards.
  • Anything that might place the Branch or the wider union in legal jeopardy.
  • Adverts or information which is posted for commercial gain.

* Name
* Email (will not be published)
* field is required