“I know that self-isolation can be tough for many people, especially if you’re not in a position to work from home,” said Hancock in his Commons address. “I don’t want anyone having to worry about their finances while they’re doing the right thing.
“So we will introduce a new £500 isolation support payment for people on low incomes who can’t work because they’ve tested positive or have been asked by NHS Test and Trace.”
There will also be steeper fines for breaching self-isolation rules, starting at £1,000 and going up to £10,000 for repeat offences and egregious breaches, including business owners who threaten redundancies if self-isolating employees don’t come to work.
NHS Test and Trace call handlers will have the power to call on police to ensure compliance in high-risk areas.
Speaking about the plans at the weekend, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We need to do all we can to control the spread of this virus, to prevent the most vulnerable people from becoming infected, and to protect the NHS and save lives.
“And while most people are doing their absolute level best to comply with the rules, I don’t want to see a situation where people don’t feel they are financially able to self-isolate.”
The government’s step comes in the wake of campaigning from the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) whose research found that 43 per cent of workers would have to go into debt or not pay bills if they were forced to self-isolate on statutory sick pay (SSP).
The £96-per-week payment is around one-fifth of average weekly earnings so if someone with Covid-19 symptoms is forced to self-isolate on SSP, they would lose more than £800 across this period, according to the TUC.
Speaking last week, TUC Regional Secretary Jay McKenna said: “We need an effective testing and tracing system, and those who are sick or self-isolating whilst they might be waiting days for a test need proper sick pay.
“We’ve been clear that the current rate of Statutory Sick Pay (£95.85 per week) is not enough to live on. Matt Hancock himself said he couldn’t afford to do so. Increasing this will help people do the right thing to protect public health, and prevent people falling into financial hardship.”
The Big Issue has been pushing for job protections as part of our Ride Out Recession Alliance. In the latest magazine, out today, we tell the story of Carla Hewitson, a mum-of-two who is “stuck in limbo” as she waits to see if she will be made redundant from her job working in the kitchens at a college.
We are working alongside RORA partners Shelter, Nationwide Foundation, Unilever and many more to come up with plans to keep people in work. We need your ideas too. Tell us your experiences, ideas and plans at firstname.lastname@example.org.