Labour has called on the government to expand eligibility for the £500 test and trace support payment to anyone without access to workplace sick pay to help keep Covid cases under control and avoid a fourth lockdown.
Commenting ahead of the Prime Minister’s statement this afternoon, during which he will set out his ‘roadmap’ for relaxing the restrictions, Anneliese Dodds urged ministers to “improve the system of self-isolation in this country”.
Her intervention comes after a SAGE report in January found that “self-reported full adherence to self-isolation among respondents in a recent cross-sectional population survey who had cough, fever or loss of taste or smell was 29%”.
The Shadow Chancellor said: “Anyone who needs support to self-isolate should be able to access it – no matter where they live or when they develop symptoms.
“That is the only way we can keep the virus under control when restrictions are lifted, avoid the devastating economic damage of another lockdown and help the vaccine programme succeed.
“However, under the current system just three in 10 people who should be self-isolating are doing so. The government’s roadmap to recovery must improve the system of self-isolation in this country.
“That means expanding the test and trace support payment to those who don’t have a workplace sick pay scheme, better enforcement, and action to fix the broken system of statutory sick pay. This will help prevent another lockdown, protect public health and secure our economy.”
Under the proposals from the party anyone who does not have access to occupational sick pay should be eligible, as well as low-income parents of self-isolating children and the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule would be suspended.
Momentum co-chair Andrew Scattergood welcomed the call to extend the support for people to self-isolate from the Shadow Chancellor “in order to get the pandemic in workplaces under control”, but urged the party to go further.
Commenting on the demand from Labour, he said: “As well as short term measures, Labour should be fighting for a massive increase in statutory sick pay. The current level of £95.85 a week is a sick joke. No one can live on that.
“40 hours a week on national minimum wage pays £356 a week – that would be an absolute minimum level of sick pay that would allow workers to cover more of their most basic needs. Realistically, a decent wage that allowed sick workers to live with dignity would be much higher.”
Labour has called on ministers to investigate whether the low level of statutory sick pay in the UK is acting as a barrier to self-isolation, which Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted he could not live on in March last year.
The UK has the second lowest sick pay in Europe at just £95.85 a week. Sick pay rates are significantly higher in France, Spain and Italy, while in Norway and Germany workers receive their full wage when they’re unable to go to work.
Boris Johnson is set to outline his ‘roadmap’ for opening up the country this afternoon in a statement to the Commons at 3.30pm followed by a Covid briefing. He is expected to announce that measures will begin to relax from March.
The Prime Minister will confirm the reopening of schools on March 8th and is expected to announce the return of the ‘rule of six’, allowing six people from six different households to meet up outside, from March 29th.
Keir Starmer has backed the plan to see all children back in schools following a warning from nine education unions that sending all children back, instead of taking a staggered approach, would be a “reckless course of action”.
Starmer has urged caution ahead of Johnson’s statement. He told the Prime Minister to “learn the lessons of the last two lockdowns” in an LBC ‘Call Keir’ session this morning and said that “businesses desperately need more support”.
Labour has demanded that the Chancellor extend temporary business rates relief for six months immediately, and not wait for the Budget next month, to “save over 1,800 theatres, museums, galleries and cinemas and help our high streets”.