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  • NEW POLLING reveals just 1 in 5 are aware of the self-isolation payments scheme – and for those more likely to need scheme the number is even lower
  • Overwhelming majority still being turned down for self-isolation grants despite new funding, according to new TUC FOI of over a quarter of English councils
  • Union body warns new variants and return to workplace could once again brutally expose failing self-isolation support scheme and measly sick pay
  • Insecure workers are ten times more likely to get no pay when off sick
  • New Fabian Society analysis for the TUC shows affordable cost of increasing statutory sick pay to real Living Wage and making sure everyone can get it

The TUC has today (Friday) released new research which shows the majority of applications   to the self-isolation payments scheme are still being turned down, despite increased government funding for the scheme.

This new analysis is based on freedom of information (FOI) data collected by the TUC from 94 councils across England.

The FOIs shows that since the government announced additional funding for the scheme at the end of February, 64 per cent have of applicants been rejected from the scheme, while just 36 per cent of applicants received the one-off £500 grant to help them self-isolate.

The TUC’s latest findings show the funding has done little to change the scheme’s low success rates. The union body conducted a similar study at the start of February before the extra funding came into play, and found just 30 per cent of applications to the scheme were successful.

The TUC warns the combination of new variants, reopened indoor hospitality and increasing numbers returning to their workplaces could once again brutally expose the failing self-isolation payments scheme and measly statutory sick pay.

“A failing scheme few have heard of”

The union body says the self-isolation payment scheme is a “failing scheme that few people have heard of”.

New TUC polling, conducted by Britain Thinks, reveals that just 1 in 5 (21 per cent)  working people are aware of the self-isolation payment scheme.

The TUC points out the scheme is even less known among those who would need it, according to the union body:

  • For those who work outside the home, just 19 per cent are aware of the scheme
  • Just 16 per cent of those who say they do not receive SSP are aware of the scheme
  • Only 16 per cent of those earning £15,000 a year or less are aware of the scheme

The self-isolation payments scheme was introduced by the government on 28 September 2020, half a year into the pandemic, and offers a one-off £500 payment for those who need to self-isolate because of coronavirus but cannot work from home.

Local authorities use discretionary grants to support applicants who do not meet the strict government-set criteria for the main self-isolation scheme. According to the Resolution Foundation, 7 in 8 workers aren’t eligible for the main scheme, so instead have to rely on discretionary payments.

The result of this, the TUC says, is a postcode lottery – with where you live determining the likelihood of whether you will receive the grant.

The union body’s analysis shows the new funding has not made this postcode lottery go away – with disparity between success rates for the scheme varying from high 90s in some local authorities to below 20 per cent in others.

An affordable, long-term solution

The TUC says these findings demonstrate the urgent need to raise statutory sick pay to the level of the real Living Wage of £330 a week and extend it to all workers. This will stop workers suffering hardship when required to self-isolate.

The UK currently has one of the lowest rates of sick pay in Europe and nearly two million workers do not earn enough to qualify for it – most of them women.

New TUC polling reveals that insecure workers are ten times more likely than workers in more secure jobs to get nothing when off sick.

The new polling also shows that nearly 1 in 5 working people say they cannot financially afford to take time off work sick.

Statutory sick pay stands at just £95.85 a week and is worth less today in real terms than it was a decade ago. It has remained the same in the midst of a severe public health crisis, despite repeated calls to raise it by the TUC.

The union body points to new Fabian Society research, which it says proves raising SSP to a real Living Wage is an “eminently affordable” and “obvious” long-term solution.

The research by the Fabian Society, commissioned by the TUC, finds that on average the cost of the measure for employers without an occupational sick pay scheme would be around £110 per employee per year – or just over £2 a week. The Fabian Society points out this measure would also have the advantage of being tied to future increases to the real Living Wage

The research also shows that removing the lower earnings limit, which prevents those on low earnings from accessing statutory sick pay, would cost employers a maximum of £150m a year. And it would cost the government less than one per cent of the test and trace scheme to support employers with these costs.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:  

“No one should be forced to choose between doing the right thing and self-isolating, and being plunged into hardship.

“But too many are still going without the financial support they need to self-isolate.

“The self-isolation payment scheme is failing. And it has been crystal clear since the start of the pandemic that the UK’s measly statutory sick pay isn't enough to live on.

“The combination of new variants, reopened indoor hospitality and increasing numbers returning to their workplace could once again brutally expose the lack of financial support available for those needing to self-isolate.

“Enough is enough. Ministers must urgently raise statutory sick pay to at least the real Living Wage. And they must ensure that everyone has access to it."

Editors note

-The FOI data set is available on request from the TUC media team

- The BritainThinks online survey was conducted between the 13th and 21st May 2021 with a sample of 2,134 workers in England and Wales – nationally representative according to ONS Labour Force Survey Data.

- The Fabian Society report Statutory Sick Pay: Options for reform is available here

- Huge demand for self-isolation support sees councils facing big funding shortfall, TUC study reveals

- Publicly available cost of Test and trace is £37bn – according to the Fabian Society, the maximum cost of removing the lower earnings limit would be £150 million – 0.4 per cent of that
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living. 


Priya Rane

TUC press office   
020 7467 1248  

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