New research undertaken by the TUC after a series of Freedom of Information requests to local authorities are showing a post code lottery for self-isolation payments. Despite recent government promises of more support it is too little too late.
For example, North Tyneside had been funding the discretionary scheme itself in order to keep up with demand. After a decade of savage cuts to local government this represents a serious financial burden which is creating a post code lottery across the region.
For many workers in the North East who have already had to self-isolate financial support has been all but no existent. For instance our research found that three quarters (75%) of applications to the scheme end up without payment while in an appalling finding only around 1 in 10 (11%) applications are successful.
Local government often finds itself being the target of criticism by the Conservative Government in London but let me be clear the problem is not one born in Tyneside and Wearside Council Chambers but one of Whitehall’s making.
What we have instead is the government underfunding the scheme nationally, which is putting pressure on local authorities to either fill the funding gap themselves or reject applications from low-paid workers who need financial support to self-isolate.
I need to be frank with the readers of this column and say that this slight of hand by the government in London is not new. It is about politics – with blame devolved to local councils in the North East but no actual power or financial resources given to solve problems.
There is an easy solution to all this, which is increase Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) to at least the Living Wage, it is currently a pitiful £96 a week and over 2 million workers (most low paid) are not eligible.
Trusting workers to self-isolate secure in the knowledge that they will still receive a decent amount of money to cover bills and do the big shop would end the post code lottery and create a watertight system to keep struggling people afloat.
The Conservatives have found themselves with the support of many voters in the North East for the first time, some of whom are trade union members. They should do well to remember that support given can just as easily be taken away.
Continuing to attack local authorities may seem like clever politics in the short term but it is damaging workers and ultimately could see struggling authorities buckle.
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