The TUC has today warned that too many workers are going without the financial support they need to self-isolate in the East Midlands, as it releases new findings which show 3 in 4 applications (74%) to the self-isolation scheme in the region are rejected.
The self-isolation payment scheme was introduced by government on 28 September 2020, six months 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 union body says the majority of applicants to the scheme in the East Midlands have been left without the financial support they need to self-isolate. The research found:
The union body also says the government is 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.
In the East Midlands at the point of response, 9 councils ran out or were close to running out of discretionary funding.
Too little too late
The government recently announced an additional £20m for the self-isolation scheme, including £10m for the discretionary scheme.
However, the TUC says this is “too little too late” as it would not be enough to satisfy demand and comes after some local councils have had to spend money plugging the gap themselves.
For example, South Northamptonshire, South Kesteven, North Kesteven and Lincoln councils ran out of funding for the discretionary scheme.
The TUC says the uncertainty around funding compounded the postcode lottery that exists within the scheme.
The self-isolation scheme was originally set to end on 31 January 2021, but the government did not clarify if funding would be topped up until mid-January.
The union body says low funding, combined with uncertainty over future funding, seems to have created reluctance among some councils to offer discretionary grants for fear of an outbreak which could lead to money running out.
Northampton, North West Leicestershire, Hinckley and Bosworth, Harborough and Derbyshire Dales councils accepted less than 5% of discretionary applications.
Decent sick pay for all
The TUC says these findings show that the current system isn’t working.
The union body is calling for statutory sick pay to be raised to the level of the real Living Wage of £330 a week and extended to all workers. This will stop workers suffering hardship when required to self-isolate.
The union body says the lack of decent sick pay is undermining the country's public health effort at a crucial stage in the fight against the coronavirus.
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 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.
Many workers relying on statutory sick pay would see a massive hit to their incomes if they contract the virus.
Recent TUC polling revealed that two-fifths (40%) of workers say they would have to go into debt, or go into arrears on their bills, if their income dropped to £96 a week – the current level of statutory sick pay.
The poll also revealed that for workers forced to self-isolate but unable to work from home, 1 in 5 (20%) received no sick pay (or wages) at all.
Test and trace chief Dido Harding said recently that people were “scared” to come forward for a test because of a lack of government financial support.
TUC Midlands Regional Secretary Lee Barron said:
“No one should be forced to choose between doing the right thing and being plunged into hardship.
“The current system of patchy self-isolation payments and paltry sick pay just isn’t working.
“Too many low-paid workers in the East Midlands are going without the financial support they need to self-isolate.
“The government could fix the problem tomorrow by offering decent sick pay to those required to self-isolate.
“Ministers must stop turning a blind eye and raise statutory sick pay to at least the real Living Wage. And they must ensure that everyone has access to it.”
- The TUC sent an FOI to every English council asking how many applications it had received for self-isolation payments as of 6 January 2021, how many it had paid out, whether this was split by main and discretionary, and how much main and discretionary funding it had used so far. At the point of analysis, 238 councils had responded. 233 provided the number of applications received, and 152 of these provided this data by main and discretionary. Many of the councils who did not provide this information use a single application system. 229 councils provided us with information about used and remaining funding for the main scheme, and 235 provided the same information for the discretionary scheme.
-The self-isolation payment is £500. It is given to those who have to self-isolate but are going to lose out financially because of missed work due to this. Initial funding was set to last until 31st January, and is split into two pots: the main funding (which is given out under government-created eligibility criteria) and the discretionary funding (local authorities can create their own criteria for this, intended to catch those who need support but don’t meet the main criteria). More info here.
-Councils were told that the funding for the main payment was unlimited, with the initial funding to be topped up depending on how many payments are given. The discretionary funding, however, has been more vague, with government not clarifying until mid-January if this would be topped up or extended.
-Statutory sick pay of £79.10 in 2009/10, the last full financial year when Labour was in power, would be worth £99.90 today once adjusted for inflation. The CPI measure was used to adjust for inflation.
- BritainThinks conducted an online survey of 2,231 in England and Wales between 19th November – 29thNovember 2020. All respondents were either in work, on furlough, or recently made redundant. Survey data has been weighted to be representative of the working population in England and Wales by age, gender, socioeconomic grade, working hours and security of work in line with ONS Labour Force survey data.
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 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.
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