People who can’t afford to self-isolate should ‘access Universal Credit’: test and trace boss
Reporter: Charlotte Green
Date published: 10 August 2020
A spokesperson for the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s office said they were ‘pleased’ that the head of test trace had ‘acknowledged the importance’ of giving people financial help to self-isolate
People on low incomes or zero hour contracts who cannot afford to self-isolate should ‘access Universal Credit’, according to the boss of the national test and trace programme.
Greater Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham is launching a campaign today (Monday), together with the Mayor of Liverpool City Region and the TUC, calling on the government to pay workers who need to quarantine for two weeks ‘fairly’.
There are concerns that some people in unstable employment or who don’t qualify for sick pay will feel forced to continue working to makes end meet when they should be isolating after coming into contact with a coronavirus case.
Many people are employed in roles which are impossible to do from home, and may face losing out on two weeks of wages.
Baroness Dido Harding, the executive chair of NHS test and trace told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that people should be accessing benefits to fill the gap in their income.
“I really understand how hard it is for people to take two weeks out of their life and self-isolate, particularly if you don’t feel ill,” she said.
“But if you are eligible for statutory sick pay, that is available for those two weeks.
“If you’re not eligible for statutory sick pay you are eligible for other benefits and it’s very important that people do know that they should be accessing Universal Credit which has been up-weighted through the crisis.”
Local authorities have also been providing local support throughout the crisis such as food packages, and there has been ‘fantastic work’ in Greater Manchester, she added.
They are continuing to look at what the ‘real barriers’ are for people to isolate and ‘refining both the financial and non-financial support’.
However, Baroness Harding would not confirm whether there was a package of funding that was being ringfenced nationally to support people self-isolate.
She said that £300m had been allocated to local authorities to build their local action plans looking at how they would deal with future outbreaks of Covid-19.
“Local authorities are using that funding for different things and in areas of intervention we have allocated additional funding so that local authorities are able for example to provide accommodation,” she added.
“That’s happening in some parts of the country where people physically can’t self isolate in their homes.
“There is a variety of different things and I do think that is best locally led and locally directed rather than a national scheme.”
A spokesperson for the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s office said they were ‘pleased’ that the head of test trace had ‘acknowledged the importance’ of giving people financial help to self-isolate.
“But statutory sick pay and Universal Credit are not the solution,” they said.
“They will not cover people’s loss of earning and many will be reluctant to self-isolate if it leaves them in debt or unable to pay the bills.
“The government urgently needs to fix this problem before the schools reopen and we head into a winter without a vaccine.”
The spokesperson added that across Greater Manchester councils have a £465m ‘hole in their balance sheets’ and do not have the funding to provide the support themselves.
“We are calling for a new scheme which allows all employees to immediately self-isolate on full pay as soon as they get a request to do so from test and trace,” they said.
“Like a call-up for jury service, this is a request from the government for people to fulfil a civic duty and they should be supported to fulfil it as part of the national effort to defeat this virus.”
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