Home Office slammed for 'scandalous' idea that passport office staff return to work when flights are grounded

Sirena Bergman@SirenaBergman
Thursday 09 April 2020 09:15
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The British passport office has reportedly told its workers to go into work next week despite us being in the middle of a coronavirus lockdown.

The BBC reports that earlier this week an advisor to the Home Office basically told staff that there was no point in trying to avoid getting coronavirus.

She apparently also said that government health guidance did not mean that staff "should stay at home instead of delivering critical services".

While some key workers are exempt from lockdown measures, passport office workers don't appear anywhere on the government's list, which makes sense given that most people require passports to travel, and there isn't much of that happening at the moment, for obvious reasons.

According to the transcript seen by the BBC, the Home Office deputy scientific adviser, Rupert Shute, said:

You are no more at risk at the workplace as you would be in your home or at the supermarket. It is about minimising it.

We are working on the assessment that 80 per cent of us, if we haven't already, will get the virus.

We cannot hide away from it forever.

It seems like an odd stance for a government agency, given it appears to contradict current government advice.

Shute also allegedly justified the logic by saying:

What is also critical for us as a business is to have a manageable level of work in the system, so that when we start our recovery we are not overwhelmed by our demands.

But people have questioned how much reasonable demand for passports there can be given no one is supposed to be travelling unless absolutely necessary.

Staff would accept the need for a small number of people to continue going into work in order to process applications which are necessary for ID (rather than travel) purposes, especially for people working in the NHS. But it seems the majority of the work would be relating to passport requests for Easter holidays, which are obviously somewhat moot now.

Those who work in passport offices were said to be understandably confused and upset by the new guidelines, feeling their lives were being put at risk for no good reason. One person suggested: "Your actions are going to kill people," while another wrote:

If my family die because you insist I need to come to work before the surge passes (having isolated until now), I will pursue a claim against HMPO/Home Office for negligence.

The Public and Commercial Services Union which represents the workers called the move "scandalous" and said this was "extremely irresponsible" and "totally contradicted current government guidance", claiming that making people go to work increases their risk of contracting Covid-19, if nothing else then because they would need to travel to work – many via public transport.

The Home Office said in a statement to the BBC that the passport office is "fully adhering to public health advice across all of its offices" and "adopting social distancing measures to keep both its staff and customers safe".

It continued: "It was made clear in the meeting that the government's priority is slowing the spread of coronavirus and we all have a part to play in order to protect the NHS and save lives."

People pointed out that Home Secretary Priti Patel is nowhere to be found, and now might be the time for her to comment.

Current government guidelines state that everyone must exercise social distancing and stay home with the exception of one hour a day, unless they fall into the "key worker" category.

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