Trade unions and regional mayors have called on the government to subsidise the wages of people told to self-isolate under the test-and-trace system, saying that statutory sick pay is not enough.
The government’s much-discussed test-and-trace system will fail unless ministers agree to pay the wages of those who are forced to self-isolate, unions and local mayors have warned today.
Millions of low-paid workers in the UK either do not qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP) or could not afford to live on the SSP allowance of £95.85 per week – leaving them unable to pay the bills if they are told to self-isolate under the test-and-trace scheme.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) and trade unions including Unite, Unison, GMB and Usdaw have joined calls for the government to step in and make a commitment to pay the wages of self-isolating workers, warning that the test-and-trace scheme will fail if people cannot afford to miss work.
The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “We all want test and trace to work. But it’s not viable to ask workers to self-isolate if that means they are plunged into financial hardship. Until ministers fix this problem, people will continue to struggle to follow official advice.
“Wherever possible, employers should do the right thing and pay workers their full pay. But the government must also ensure that every worker gets financial support. Too many – including the 2 million who currently don’t qualify for sick pay, or the 7 million only getting SSP – will not be able to afford to isolate.”
Similar schemes are already in place in other countries, with German workers receiving full pay for up to seven weeks of quarantine and then 70% of their regular take-home-pay after that. In China, workers who are told to self-isolate at home for two-weeks have all their rent, food and bills paid by the government for that time period.
Regional mayors in the north-west have joined the calls for the government to step in and cover wages. Launching a campaign called Time Out to Help Out, the Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said that workers who are told to self-isolate should be paid their full normal wage which employers would then claim back from the government – similar to the way wages are paid for those doing jury duty.
Mr Burnham said: “NHS Test and Trace will never work properly until all employees are supported to follow its requests. It’s right that everybody plays their part in helping to get Covid-19 under control. But what’s not right is forcing some of our workers – many doing the lowest-paid jobs or self-employed – to make a choice between self-isolating or face a drastic loss of income.”
Steve Rotheram, the metro mayor of the Liverpool city region, echoed these sentiments, saying: “We cannot beat this virus by asking people to choose between putting food on the table or keeping their communities safe.”