Govt’s ‘scrimping’ could cost lives

Unite slams measly £13 a day for low waged self-isolators

Reading time: 6 min

Thirteen quid a day. Not a lot really when you take your bills, outgoings, kids’ school uniforms, gas – not to mention food – into account. It all adds up to earning around £4,700 a year.

It’s just the latest ‘calamity’ from health secretary Matt Hancock. Low waged workers in England where there are high rates of coronavirus will be able to claim up to £182 if they have to self-isolate.

Yesterday (August 27) the health secretary announced that the payment applies to benefit claimants who live in areas where there are high numbers of coronavirus cases.

From Tuesday, those who claim Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit and cannot work from home will get the new ‘self-isolation payment’ – roughly the same as statutory sick pay (SSP) – equal to £13 a day.

First up for this trial run are those in parts of north-west England. The news was greeted with dismay from Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham.  He said the payment “goes nowhere near far enough”, adding that people in this situation needed “full pay”.

The England-wide scheme will begin with a trial in Blackburn with Darwen, Pendle and Oldham, where there have been tighter lockdown measures after a rise in cases.

Employed or self-employed people who test positive for the virus are required to isolate for 10 days, so those eligible for the extra money will get £130.

But members of the household of someone who has tested positive, who must self-isolate for 14 days, will be entitled to up to £182, assuming they also qualify for the payment.

Anyone else who is told to self-isolate by NHS contact tracers and meets the qualification criteria will also be entitled to the £13 a day for the duration of their self-isolation.

And if this ‘northern experiment’ is ‘successful’ the payment will be rolled out “quickly” to other areas where there are lots of cases, according to the health department.

According to data published earlier this month, nearly 5.5m people across the UK are now claiming benefits – an 81 per cent increase since March.

“Self-isolating if you have tested positive for Covid-19, or have come into contact with someone who has, remains vital to keeping on top of local outbreaks,” commented Matt Hancock.

‘Don’t lose out by doing the right thing’

He said the payments had been introduced after feedback from England’s NHS Test and Trace programme, and reassuringly added it would mean people “don’t lose out by doing the right thing.”

Doing the right thing? This payment clearly shows the government is far from being across the true cost of living in the UK.

Astonishingly less than six months ago in March, Hancock said himself that statutory sick pay was not enough to live on. In an episode of BBC TV’s Question Time in March, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said she didn’t believe Matt Hancock could live on the SSP of £94.25 a week. And when asked directly by Fiona Bruce if he could he replied “No”.

But now it’s enough to self-isolate on apparently. Responding to the news yesterday O’Grady slammed what she called “These paltry payments” adding “[they] will not make the difference needed.

She said, “The sooner government gets on with delivering fair sick pay for everyone, the quicker we will beat this pandemic. It should be at least as much as the real Living Wage – £320 a week – so everyone who needs to self-isolate can afford to.”

And Labour’s shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds tweeted, “Now he’s saying people who aren’t eligible for it [SSP] should get a similar amount to self-isolate. If the Health Secretary couldn’t live on less than £100 a week, why does he think other people can?” she asks.

Unite are highly concerned that workers that have tested positive won’t be able to live on the miserable £13 a day to self-isolate – and so they just might not self-isolate as they can’t afford to. But Unite argues this would cost the economy far more in the long term, risking local lockdowns and worse, than paying self-isolaters a realistic sum to live on.

Rob Miguel, Unite health and safety adviser is far from impressed and is concerned what will happen if affected workers decide they can’t afford to isolate – and just return to work.

“Scrimping on decent pay while workers are self-isolating is a false economy and disastrous to health. There’s a temptation for workers not to isolate if they are not given enough to live on,” Miguel commented.

He added, “In turn more people will get infected which increases the risk of vulnerable people catching the virus, getting ill and possibly dying. There would be obvious increased costs as matters spiral out of control. The government needs to wake up and smell the coffee, put their hands in their pockets, save money in the long run, and most importantly save lives.”


Read Unite’s coronavirus health and safety guidance


By Amanda Campbell @amanda_unite

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