The government trial to pay low-paid workers in England up to £13-a-day to self-isolate if they test positive for the coronavirus has been described as a “slap in the face” that would leave people without enough money to live on.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, defended the level of payment as being based on statutory sick pay of £95.85 a week but the amount was roundly criticised as going “nowhere near far enough”.
Mohammed Iqbal, the leader of Pendle borough council, one of the areas where the scheme is being trialled, said: “I welcome the fact that there is a financial package in place but the figures that the government has introduced are really a slap in the face for those people who sadly test positive.”
In a trial starting on Tuesday in Oldham, Pendle and Blackburn with Darwen, which all have high infection rates, low-paid workers who test positive for Covid-19 will receive £130 for their 10-day isolation period.
This rises to £182 – or £13 a day – for people they have been in close contact with, including members of their household, who have to isolate for 14 days.
The move follows weeks of campaigning by regional mayors, councils and trade unions who said millions of people across the country could not afford to isolate without pay for a fortnight.
Workers will have to show proof of employment or self-employment, be unable to work from home, and be receiving universal credit or working tax credit in order to be eligible for the scheme.
The Department for Health and Social Care said stringent checks would be carried out on people to prevent fraud and that the payments would aim to be made within 48 hours of evidence being provided.
However, the level of payments, which are on top of existing benefits such as universal credit and working tax credits, were immediately criticised by scientists, directors of public health and political leaders.
Prof Susan Michie, director of the Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London and a member of the government’s advisory group, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours, said the payments were “not enough” and should not just be limited to people who live in areas with high infection rates. “This is a question of guaranteeing no financial loss,” she said.
Dominic Harrison, the director of public health at Blackburn with Darwen council, said the self-isolation payments should be equivalent to the jury service fee of £64.95 a day if it is “to make a difference to people who are self-employed, on low incomes or people with precarious employment conditions or zero hours contracts”.
Hancock defended the scheme and suggested the payment could be raised if the trial is expanded. “This is the first step in paying people to self isolate; we’ll monitor how effective it is. I don’t rule anything out, but we want to get the system working and we want to see how effective it is,” he told Times Radio.
Jim McMahon, the Labour MP for Oldham West & Royton, said the money was nowhere near enough to replace the lost income of people such as taxi drivers, warehouse workers, delivery drivers and security operators who would face a choice between self-isolating without pay or providing for their families.
“If you’ve got to pay the rent, the council tax, insurance on a car – this is not enough. Schools are going back next week and this won’t even pay for one school uniform for one child,” he said. “It’s got to be enough to live on and this fails that fundamental test.”
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester who led calls for low-paid workers to be paid their full normal wage for the quarantine period, said he was pleased ministers had acknowledged the issue but that it went “nowhere near far enough” and would “leave people without enough to live on”. He added: “The health secretary has already said that he couldn’t live on statutory sick pay at £95 a week. So how can an announcement like this work?”
Source: The Guardian