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The latest figures show just 19 families of health and social care staff who have died of Covid-19 related causes have received help under the scheme. (PA)


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Ministers have come under fire after it emerged families of frontline workers who have died from coronavirus will lose access to welfare payments if they receive compensation from the Government.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats hit out as it was confirmed that anyone who receives the £60,000 lump sum under the NHS and Social Care Coronavirus Life Assurance Scheme will no longer be eligible for a string of social security payments.

The scheme was set up by Matt Hancock at the height of the pandemic in April, with the Health Secretary saying he “felt a deep personal sense of duty that we must care for” the loved ones of NHS and care staff who have died from the disease.

But research by Labour, first reported by The Guardian, has revealed that the five-figure payment is being treated as capital in means-tested benefits. 

Current Universal Credit rules mean that anyone with capital or savings of over £16,000 is ineligible to claim support, while claimants with more than £6,000 in the bank face reductions in the amount of state help they can receive. 

Capital limits also apply to Housing Benefit, Pension Credit, Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, and Income-related Employment and Support Allowance.

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “Health and social care workers are putting their lives on the line to care for coronavirus patients, often without the proper equipment, and many have sadly lost their lives as a result.”

He added: “The Government was right to say we must honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

“So it is shocking that families are being forced to choose between accessing social security they are entitled to or the compensation they need.

 

“This must change so that families can grieve in peace with the full support they have every right to expect.”

 

The opposition party pointed out the Department for Work and Pensions already disregards similar payments made under the scheme set up to compensate victims of the Windrush scandal, and is calling for a similar approach to be taken for the coronavirus programme. 

That was echoed by Liberal Democrat leadership hopeful Layla Moran, who said: “It is utterly shameful that bereaved families of NHS and care workers face losing access to benefits if they receive a payment from the Covid-19 compensation scheme.

“This scheme was set up to provide financial security and comfort to the loveed ones of those who tragically died on the frontline against coronavirus.

“This exercise in penny pinching is completely tone deaf and risks rubbing salt in the wounds of grieving families. The Government must scrap this senseless rule immediately.”

More than 540 health and social care workers have died of Covid-19-related causes during the UK pandemic. 

But the latest figures — from late May — show that just 19 families have so far qualified for the assurance scheme payouts.

Responding to the criticism, a government spokesperson said: “The death of any healthcare worker is a tragedy.

“Since it began in May, the life assurance scheme has already provided additional financial security to families of frontline NHS and social care workers in England who have died due to coronavirus.

“It has always been one the central principles of Universal Credit that decisions on awarding the benefit should take into account individuals’ existing ability to meet their basic needs, so that we maintain our focus on supporting families in most need.”

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Sports Stars, Actors And “High-Value” Business Travellers Returning To England Will No Longer Have To Self-Isolate

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From Saturday certain business travellers will no longer have to self-isolate when they arrive back into England (PA)


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Grant Shapps has revealed “high-value” business travellers are part of a new group of people who will not have to quarantine when they return to England after traveling to countries outside of coronavirus travel corridors.

The transport secretary said recently signed sports stars, performing arts professionals, TV production staff and journalists will also be exempt from the 14-day self-isolation period even if they have visited a destination where people are required to quarantine on return.

The move, which will come into force from 4am on Saturday, was recommended by the Government’s Global Travel Taskforce, which warned that business travel would be particularly slow to recover. 

Announcing the news on Twitter, Mr Shapps wrote: “New Business Traveller exemption: From 4am on Sat 5th Dec high-value business travellers will no longer need to self-isolate when returning to ENGLAND from a country NOT in a travel corridor, allowing more travel to support the economy and jobs. Conditions apply.

“From 4am on Sat 5th Dec certain performing arts professionals, TV production staff, journalists and recently signed elite sportspersons will also be exempt, subject to specific criteria being met.”

The news follows the government’s ‘Test to Release’ plan to cut the 14-day quarantine period to five days .

It means anyone arriving in the UK from a high-risk destination after 15 December will be able to leave isolation if they pay for a Covid-19 test after the fifth day and it comes back negative.

But as most inbound business travellers spend fewer than three days here that policy was unlikely to help revive this type of travel, which accounted for 22% of inbound visits a year before the pandemic, and contributed £4.5billion to the UK economy.

The department for transport has also revealed a “high-value” business trip must be one that “creates or preserves 50+ UK jobs”, but further guidance will be revealed before the plan comes into force.

In a statement it said: “Public Health England do not anticipate these changes will raise the risk of domestic transmission, due to the protocols being put in place around these exemptions, however all exemptions will remain under review.”

Mr Shapps also confirmed this evening that no destinations have been added or removed from the UK’s existing travel corridors list.



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Covid: Are countries under pressure to approve a vaccine?

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The claim that Brexit allowed the UK to approve the vaccine faster than other European countries has been disproved but it does reflect once again a different path Britain is taking. All EU countries have the option to follow the UK example and let their domestic drug regulator issue emergency approval, but the bloc says it wants to wait for the European Medicines Agency to give the green light on all their behalf. Germany, backed by Denmark and others, believes this maximises safety, allows a co-ordinated rollout, boosts public trust in the vaccine and ensures no country is left behind.

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US bill that could remove Chinese firms from stock exchanges is now on Trump’s desk

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The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would prevent companies that refuse to open their books to US accounting regulators from trading on US stock exchanges. The legislation won unanimous backing in the Senate earlier this year, meaning it only needs President Donald Trump’s signature to become law.

The bill would apply to any foreign company, but the focus on China is obvious. Beijing has resisted such scrutiny. It requires companies that are traded overseas to hold their audit papers in mainland China, where they cannot be examined by foreign agencies. All US-listed public companies would also be required to disclose whether they are owned or controlled by a foreign government, including China’s Communist party.

“US policy is letting China flout rules that American companies play by, and it’s dangerous,” Senator John Neely Kennedy said in a statement after the House vote.
The legislation would give Trump yet another way to put pressure on China before he leaves office in January. Washington has been ratcheting up its fight with Beijing this year as the two countries blame each other for starting and mishandling the coronavirus pandemic and clash over Hong Kong and alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The Trump administration has targeted TikTok and forced Huawei into a fight for survival, and banned Americans from investing in some Chinese firms.
Several Chinese companies have been preparing contingency plans in light of the heightened scrutiny from the United States. Earlier this year, gaming company NetEase (NTES) and e-commerce firm JD.com (JD), both of which trade in New York, acknowledged the tensions as they announced secondary listings on the Hong Kong stock exchange. Other companies that could be affected include Alibaba (BABA) and China Telecom (CHA).

“Enactment of any of such legislations or other efforts to increase US regulatory access to audit information could cause investor uncertainty for affected issuers, including us, the market price of our [US shares] could be adversely affected, and we could be delisted if we are unable” to meet requirements in time, JD said in filings to the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Beijing has made its dissatisfaction with the US legislation evident. Asked Wednesday about the House vote, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying said “we firmly oppose politicizing securities regulation.”

“We hope the US side can provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for foreign companies to invest and operate in the US, instead of trying to set up various barriers,” Hua told reporters.

Should the bill become law, its immediate consequences aren’t entirely clear. Analysts at Goldman Sachs pointed out in a research note earlier this year that the legislation would only force businesses to de-list if they could not be audited for three consecutive years.

Still, even the potential for tighter regulatory scrutiny was likely to push more companies to dual list in Hong Kong, the analysts added.

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