Boost self-isolation payments or risk Covid resurgence, experts say

Thinktanks urge UK government to fund system that would cover wages on a similar basis to furlough scheme

Payments to allow people with Covid symptoms to self-isolate need to be increased sharply or a return to normal life could lead to a resurgence in infections and deaths, ministers are being warned.

Two leading thinktanks have proposed that the government funds grants for employers and the self-employed, on a similar basis to the furlough scheme, to encourage more people to isolate.

Doctors, public health experts and opposition parties believe that low adherence to the request to self-isolate has been a major flaw in Britain’s response to the pandemic and allowed coronavirus to spread.

One recent study found that almost half of those displaying symptoms did not bother to stay at home, often because they could not afford to lose income from not working.

The Resolution Foundation and the Nuffield Trust are urging ministers to introduce a scheme in which employers could apply for a grant to cover the wages of any employee who needed to self-isolate, using a modified version of the existing coronavirus job retention scheme.

Self-employed workers would be able to obtain similar levels of support, also in the form a grant, through the self-employment income support scheme.

If implemented, the new payments system would cover 100% of a worker’s wages, capped at the equivalent of £2,500 a month, or £822 for a typical 10-day spell in isolation. That is equal to the cap used in the furlough scheme, which has subsidised workers’ wages since last year.

It would cost the government between £27m and £39m a month, a fraction of the £1.25bn monthly cost of the heavily criticised test-and-trace programme, the thinktanks said.

The amounts available for self-isolation have been too low, and therefore contributed to the virus spreading as people have continued to work to earn money, they argued.

“The support available for people to self-isolate has been a blind spot in our response to the pandemic. Compliance with test-and-trace requests to self-isolate are low, with evidence pointing to loss of income as a key barrier for people,” said Sarah Reed, a senior fellow at the Nuffield Trust.

“Without proper self-isolation support too many people have been put in the difficult position of choosing between doing the right thing or risking their livelihoods.

“Many other countries have not had this problem. Either they have more generous sick pay policies already, or they were quicker to put comprehensive self-isolation payments in place.

“For example, Austria, Finland and Germany cover 100% of lost earnings if they are self-isolating.”

A joint report by the thinktanks says that: “The £500 self-isolation support payments only cover about one in eight workers and statutory sick pay only covers a quarter of the average worker’s earnings, and misses out 2 million of the lowest-paid workers altogether.”

Reed said: “Now is the time to fix this weakness in our defence strategy. The pandemic is not over yet. Cases are expected to increase alongside easing restrictions, while new variants test us, and the ongoing vaccination campaign continues.”

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, has backed the plan. “Without fixing this gaping hole in our defences we risk undermining the work done to bring the virus under control. Ministers cannot afford to ignore calls to introduce proper sick pay. Our path out of the pandemic depends on it,” he said.The Department of Health and Social Care was approached for comment.

Contributor

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Boris Johnson stresses Covid vaccine safety as tensions with NHS spill over
Ministers accused of ‘moving goalposts’ and wrongly taking credit for success of immunisation programme

Denis Campbell and Heather Stewart

18, Mar, 2021 @8:45 PM

Article image
Labour urges Rishi Sunak to extend Covid self-isolation payments
Chancellor must expand support scheme or risk fourth national lockdown, Anneliese Dodds warns

Jessica Elgot

21, Feb, 2021 @10:30 PM

Article image
England to pilot daily Covid tests as way to avoid self-isolation
Trial will explore whether tests for contacts of infected people reduce the need for them to isolate

Nicola Davis Science correspondent

02, May, 2021 @11:28 AM

Article image
UK Covid self-isolation period reduced from 14 to 10 days
Chief medical officers of all four nations ‘confident’ about cutting the time period

Peter Walker Political correspondent

11, Dec, 2020 @5:52 PM

Article image
NHS Covid app to be tweaked to cut need for self-isolation
Ministers decide to make app less sensitive amid fears millions will have to stay home over next month

Caroline Davies and Heather Stewart

08, Jul, 2021 @7:06 PM

Article image
NHS rationing putting hernia patients' lives at risk, say surgeons
Cost cutting has a doubling in numbers denied quick access to treatment, claims royal college

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

16, Jul, 2018 @11:01 PM

Article image
'Monumental mistakes' made over handling of Covid, says Labour
Shadow health secretary says ‘litany of errors’ led to UK having fifth-highest death toll in world

Matthew Weaver and Heather Stewart

27, Jan, 2021 @9:27 AM

Article image
Cut to self-isolation period may increase Covid hospital risk, says NHS chief
Pressure is on government to cut time to five days in England, but experts say this may lead to rise in community

Nicola Davis and Rob Davies

30, Dec, 2021 @2:27 PM

Article image
Pharmacists in England considering strike action over Covid debts
Industry association says chancellor must intervene to waive repayment of £370m of government loans

Jessica Elgot

10, Feb, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
UK doctors and health experts back Covid-19 'circuit breaker'
Medics favour series of short lockdowns ‘to buy time’ as chancellor Rishi Sunak says regional tiered action is best

Denis Campbell, Jessica Elgot and Heather Stewart

15, Oct, 2020 @7:13 AM