Millions of workers are facing money worries due to Covid-19 – here’s how businesses can help their employees
There are almost six million small and medium sized firms (SMEs) in the UK, more than 100,000 of which are based in Greater Manchester alone. SMEs account for over 99% of all businesses in the country, employing more than 16 million people. If small firms are the engine of this country’s economy, then its workers are the lifeblood that keep the motor turning.
But those firms are now facing probably the most difficult time of their business lives as they struggle with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown. Over a million businesses have applied to the government’s job retention scheme to help pay their employees’ wages, furloughing the jobs of almost nine million workers.
This dramatic turn of events has already hit the pockets of many workers. Not only have they been worried about the potential impact of the virus on their health and the restrictions placed on them and their families, now millions of people are struggling with a personal financial crisis. Already 1.6 million3 homeowners have had to ask for a payment holiday on their mortgages, while a further 1.5 million have been forced to do the same with their personal loans and credit cards.
Any respite people might get from not having to make debt repayments for a few months will be swept away once lockdown measures are eased and the country is seen to be returning to some kind of normality. Mortgage lenders, loan providers, credit card companies and banks are all going to want to see repayments start again. But for so many workers, their financial situation won’t suddenly be better. In fact many will be struggling with more debt racked up over the lockdown, while others could still be trying to manage on reduced working hours and incomes.
The need for financial advice among ordinary workers has never been greater. Yet many people either cannot afford to speak to a financial adviser or don’t know where to go to find simple, helpful money advice. This is why we have created WorkLife.
WorkLife is an employee benefits platform created for smaller businesses and their workers, offering a range of benefits and services usually only available to staff at bigger corporate firms. For me the most important thing WorkLife has to offer is financial advice, along with a range of money management tools, giving potentially millions of workers the much-needed support they deserve during these difficult times. All for free.
The free money guidance will be provided by Manchester-based financial advice pioneer OpenMoney. And because financial stress is more than just finding the money to pay your bills, WorkLife also offers free mental health and wellbeing support from Thrive, an NHS approved app. On top of that, to make money stretch a bit further, WorkLife has a range of discounts at big brand shops and restaurants via Purecard.
All of these benefits are available immediately at no extra cost to the employee. Normally, WorkLife would cost businesses £2 per month, per employee, but WorkLife is now free for the rest of the year, saving an SME with 50 employees £600 over the next six months. This means that even those firms hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak will be able to offer their workers valuable benefits and support, at no cost to the business in 2020. While for employees, the benefits will feel like they’re getting hundreds of pounds extra in their pay packets each year.
Normally benefits like this are only available to employees of big firms, primarily due to hefty upfront costs, prohibitive ongoing fees and long contracts. With WorkLife, we wanted to throw that idea out of the window. The online platform is simple to set up, linking up with payroll information and workplace pensions, so employees can see all their benefits and salary in one place.
WorkLife users will also get competitive rates on life and critical illness insurance from Anorak and household insurance from Uinsure, as well as health and wellbeing deals via My Active Discounts, with more benefits and discounts to follow soon. Employers can even add their own benefits and rewards they think their employees will value. The platform can be used to communicate with workers to keep them up to date with their total benefits package and new products. It is just as simple for staff themselves to log on to the platform, via a smartphone, tablet or computer, so they can choose their benefits and keep track of what they have.
Workers at small businesses deserve to be looked after, especially now when so many are facing money worries. We know that increasingly people look to the companies they work for as a trusted source of help and information. By offering WorkLife free to employers for the rest of the year, we hope that this can help them give their people the kind of helping hand they need right now.