Contractor sector echoes PM's warning to obey lockdown rules

A warning from Boris Johnson that people should follow coronavirus lockdown rules and not ignore them unless they want the rules tightened is being echoed by the contractor sector.

Talking of people drinking coffees in parks as potentially “spreading the disease”, the PM said it was “far better for people to obey the rules we have,” than for him to set tougher ones.

Issuing it after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the government’s ‘work from home’ message needed reinforcing, Mr Johnson’s warning coincided with a legal expert’s.

'Tempted contractors at risk of catching, spreading covid'

“The temptation may be to go back into the workplace, but the lockdown regulations are clear -- you may only leave your home for work ‘if you cannot reasonably work from home,’” said the expert, Hannah Morrison of Brabners LLP.

Told that contractors may wish to go back to the workplace following prolonged periods at home, first under the Tier system then over Christmas, the lawyer also told ContractorUK:

“Whatever steps businesses may have taken to try and make their workplace covid-secure, contractors commuting and attending the workplace risk catching and transmitting covid-19.

“Additionally, employers or businesses deemed to be encouraging or even requiring workers to attend the workplace unnecessarily risk reputational damage and potential health and safety-related claims.”

'Haven't seen a work-related soul for weeks'

A chief executive of a contractor services provider said he was “not in the same boat” as his PR adviser who, “can’t remember the last time [he] saw a soul for work-related reasons.”

An umbrella company boss has been following the rules too – and still is. “It was lunch for just my son and I on Christmas Day and it’s been that way ever since.

“I do have a partner but we decided to keep our respective families safe, both over the festive holidays and now, for the New Year,” the boss said. “I hope others do the right thing too.”

“As the vaccine is rolled out, we all have a part to play,” Labour’s Sir Keir said yesterday in a speech. “We have to stay at home. We have to follow the guidance.”

'Negative WfH effects affecting almost one in five'

But on the same day as the opposition leader’s ‘stay at home’ endorsement, a study by law firm Harrison Clark Rickerbys shows that mandating ‘WfH’ appears to cause harm.

In fact, before the covid-19 outbreak, only three per cent of people said home-working had a “negative effect” on their wellbeing, but that figure rose to 17% during the first lockdown.

Productivity seems to have suffered too, as HCR found that the proportion of people who reported being “less effective” working from home than in the workplace doubled -- to 18%.

'Lockdown takes toll on mental health'

“The [underway] third lockdown when many were hoping that the new year would bring a gradual return to normality is understandably going to take its toll on people’s mental health,” agrees Brabners’ Ms Morrison. “Particularly those who live or work alone or who simply miss the social interaction.”

But social interactions, like a coffee in the park with a friend which last night got a caveated all-clear for some, are few and far between even pre-covid for the owner of an umbrella firm.

“Business is quiet but on the personal side, running a brolly is very time-consuming so not going out and socialising is standard for me. The only rule-breaking I get to see is on TV!”

'Don't say your exercising when you're really socialising'

Should the owner get to go out, they might be allowed to take a socially-distanced walk in the park with one person from another household, health secretary Matt Hancock said last night.

“[Just] don’t say you’re exercising when you’re really socialising,” an annoyed Mr Hancock said. “If too many people keep breaking this rule, then we are going to have to look at it.”

The minister explained that people who live alone are the reason the government wants to keep socially-distanced walks with another single-person household allowed.

'A flex can be fatal'

His explanation came after reports suggested ministers have considered what a tightening of lockdown rules around the wearing of masks and going to the supermarket might look like.

Mr Hancock warned: “[The rules] are not a limit that should be stretched. Don’t flex the rules. A flex can be fatal. That can lead to more infections. And that can lead to more deaths.”

In France, rules similarly put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus are being flexed – with comedic effect. An adviser to contractors who regularly writes for ContractorUK said:

“The most ridiculous thing is seeing French people trying to smoke while half-wearing a face mask! The thing is, it’s compulsory in France to wear a face mask when outside the home.”

'Glued to their mobiles'

In the UK, using the permitted reason of ‘exercise’ to leave home (as Mr Hancock insinuated) is a common excuse to connect with others. At least it is where a contractor tax boss lives.  

 “In my neck of the woods people are often not jumping six foot apart when walking around the park and someone nears -- like they should be.

"That’s because most of the time they’re not exercising;” the boss said, “they’re actually just glued to their mobiles.”

'My toddler takes the rules literally'

And then there are those at the other end of the spectrum -- the overly covid-cautious, little people, mused the boss’s marketing director.

“My daughter, she just got a bike and she’s three-years-old,” the director began. “I’ve told her that not only in the supermarket but when we’re outside to step aside and let people pass, or use her bike to ring the bell to let people know she’s there or squeeze the brake to let people pass. But she has taken this literally and keeps on stopping or ringing the bell a good half-mile before people approach in the other direction! So we don’t get very far, very fast!”

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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