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Self isolation support won’t work on ‘measly’ sick pay, says TUC

New pilot schemes will help people forced to stay home with translation services and alternative housing. But it will do little to stop the spread of Covid-19 without higher sick pay, Frances O’Grady said

New schemes designed to help people self-isolating during the pandemic will do little to stop the spread of Covid-19 while “measly” statutory sick pay remains at £96 per week, according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The pilot programmes, which involve mental health support and space away from overcrowded housing, are “tinkering around the edges” of what is needed to support people forced to choose between staying home and earning a living, Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC said.

“No one should be forced to choose between doing the right thing and being plunged into hardship,” she told The Big Issue. “But it has been abundantly clear since the start of the pandemic that our measly statutory sick pay isn’t enough to live on. 

“This pilot scheme does nothing to address the fact that too many are still going without the financial support they need to self-isolate.

“Instead of tinkering around the edges of self-isolation support, ministers must urgently raise statutory sick pay to at least the real living wage. And they must ensure that everyone has access to it.”

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Statutory sick pay is currently worth around a fifth of the UK’s average weekly earnings, according to the TUC, meaning an average worker could face an income cut of £850 if required to stop working for two weeks.

A recent study found nearly half of people with symptoms did not self-isolate, which researchers linked in part to concerns around money.

The trials, to be rolled out across nine areas in England, include a “buddying” system for people who need mental health support and alternative places to stay for people in overcrowded housing, as well as translation and social care services.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the plans are “vital” in stemming the spread of the virus and preventing further variants developing.

“Variants have the potential to be a Trojan horse for our hard won progress and it is more vital than ever that we do what we can to show them the exit door, following the rules and self-isolating when asked,” he said in a statement.

“We recognise just how challenging self-isolation is for many people and these pilots will help us find the best ways to support people and making it easier for everyone to keep doing their bit.”

The pilot will run across nine areas – including Newham and Hackney, Yorkshire and Humber, Greater Manchester and Somerset – but the government has not introduced extra financial support for those isolating.

People on low incomes who have to stay home can apply for a £500 grant, but earlier this year Labour research suggested as many as three-quarters of applications for the money were refused.

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