Oxford University’s Human Resources Department established a Staff COVID-19 Hardship Fund, intended to alleviate some of the financial stress brought upon its employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The site explaining the details of the Fund, accessible on the HR webpage – notes that Department Heads of Administration and Finance should apply on behalf of individual employees. Applicants may write directly if they wish, but they must get a supplementary letter of support from the Head of Administration and Finance.

In the application, employees must include their name, employing department, grade and salary including length of service, income and expenditure details, and sufficient detail to support the application and whether financial hardship has been demonstrated. Oxford HR also recommends that applicants include “specific requirements” for financial assistance brought on by the pandemic.

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The Oxford Living Wage Campaign told Cherwell: “This is yet another inadequate response to the current crisis from the university. It is an unnecessarily intrusive and bureaucratic process, and exposes Oxford’s typically paternalistic approach to its workers. We are concerned that this hardship fund will be much harder to access for those lower down the pay scale, and those who do not have cosy relationships with their heads of division. Oxford should not be turning the demonstration of hardship into a competition, and should not make financial support conditional upon workers disclosing the intricacies of their private spending. You do not rescind your right to a private life at the workplace door. We again repeat our demand that the university and all its colleges guarantee job and immigration security, with 100% pay (with a ‘hazard pay’ uplift to 125% for those unable to work from home) for all workers on all contract types during and after this crisis.”

In a statement given to Cherwell, a spokesperson for the University said: “The Hardship Fund was established to support the existing Littlemore Trust staff fund in recognition that the Covid-19 crisis may have a significant financial impact on some staff and their families. This is one of a number of measures the University has brought in to support the health and well-being of our staff.  

“The fund is aimed at helping staff and students who are experiencing financial issues which may be resolved through a grant or, occasionally for staff, an interest-free loan.

“As with all organisations and businesses, the economic implications of the Covid19 crisis will be significant for the University. All our work throughout this difficult period is being done in our usual collaborative way, in discussion with Divisions, Departments, the Colleges, the University Administrative Service and the Gardens Libraries and Museums.”

The Oxford Living Wage Campaign and the Oxford University & College Union have posted critical statements in recent weeks about the University’s responses to the impact of COVID-19 on employee welfare. For instance, the UCU has petitioned the University to pause redundancies and disciplinary procedures during the pandemic.

When asked about the Oxford Living Wage Campaign’s statement regarding the Staff COVID-19 Hardship Fund, Marina Lambrakis, co-Vice-President of the Oxford UCU said, on behalf of the Oxford UCU: “It is good to see the University recognise that staff are facing hardship and unprecedented challenges at the moment. This fund could be a step in the right direction – but it is currently not at all clear how it will work: how applications will be evaluated or by who, how much money is available, or how it will be allocated. Having to disclose a huge amount of very personal information through your seniors to a generic email address, with no transparency about who will have access to that data, is deeply concerning to us and to many of our members. The Living Wage campaign are right to call this intrusive and paternalistic. We already know of staff feeling unsafe and pressured to return to work, and the University refuses to pause redundancies and is ploughing ahead with business as usual. It’s hard to say how much of their communications we can take in good faith. 

“The Oxford UCU branch are currently looking into setting up an independent hardship fund for members who have been adversely affected by Covid-19, following the model of Warwick Anti-Casualisation. We shouldn’t have to be doing this, but staff at the University are being let down – and not just our members. We encourage anyone interested to get in touch on ucu@ox.ac.uk if you are keen to get involved in some way – and remember, postgrads also get UCU membership for free.”

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