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Key Workers – What Are They?

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If there’s one phrase we’ve heard more in the last couple of months than any other, it’s “key workers”. This phrase is something you’ll hear multiple times a day from television reporters and government briefings. That doesn’t stop there from being a lot of speculation about who is a key worker, what privileges a “key worker” title implies, and whether it’s a useful label in the first place.


Differing Definitions

The main problem with the term “key workers” is that there is no legal definition. It can mean different things at separate times. Obviously, the situation will largely determine which types of workers are classed as key workers. In the current pandemic situation, keyworkers are largely defined as those working in health and social care. However, other groups of workers who are essential to national infrastructure, such as supermarket workers, lorry drivers or some teaching staff are classed as key workers too. The government has pulled together a list of key workers, although confusingly, they use the term of critical workers instead. This list is mainly concerned with which occupations get access to childcare during a time when most schools remain closed.


Disclosure Checks and Key Workers

Another definition we’ve seen is that a key worker is anyone in a role which requires a disclosure check. These criminal records checks apply to a wide range of occupations, from nurses and dentists to legal officers and accountants. It’s true that some key workers such as staff in a nursery or social care staff who look after the elderly in their own homes need DBS checks. However, you also need a DBS check to be a traffic warden or pub landlord, and neither of these occupations are defined as essential.

Perhaps the confusion has arisen as the government announced at the start of the pandemic that it was waiving fees for DBS checks for those in key worker positions, and fast-tracking applications for people working in health and social care. This has led to the mistaken assumption that all key workers need a DBS check, and that if you’re in a job which needs a DBS check then you are by default a key worker.


Other Definitions

To make things even more confusing, some organisations such as supermarkets are offering extra shopping hours or other discounts to certain groups of workers. They often refer to these groups as key workers or essential workers but make up their own definitions. Not everyone who works in the NHS is an essential worker; people working in administration or serving meals in the canteen may or may be essential. As we move out of the lockdown stage of the coronavirus pandemic and things start to slowly get back to normality, the definition is likely to keep changing. This is especially the case when it comes to deciding whose children are to return to education. Keep watching the news and stick to the government websites for the official definition, irrespective of what retailers and the newspapers tell you.