The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has warned that demand for self-isolation payments is “significantly outstripping” the available funding, as its new research revealed that seven in 10 (70%) applicants end up without financial support.
The self-isolation payment scheme was introduced by the 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.
This funding shortfall is reportedly putting pressure on local authorities to either “fill the gap” themselves, reject applications from low-paid workers who need financial support to self-isolate or, in some cases, close schemes altogether.
The warning of a big funding shortfall comes as the TUC releases new analysis based on freedom of information data collected from 175 councils across England.
The responses showed that the amount of initial money provided by the central government would not have been enough to meet the demand for around 50% of English councils – let alone nationwide.
The union has estimated that in early January there was a £28m shortfall for the discretionary scheme – a gap that remains today despite recent additional funding.
The government recently announced an additional £20m for the self-isolation scheme, including £10m for the discretionary scheme.
However, TUC has suggested this is “too little too late” as it would not be enough to “satisfy demand” and comes after some councils have had to close the scheme due to funding shortages, while other councils have had to spend money “plugging the gap” themselves.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary, TUC, 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 are going without the financial support they need to self-isolate – this is a gaping hole in the UK’s public health approach. The government could fix the problem tomorrow by offering decent sick pay to those required to self-isolate.”
She added: “Ministers must stop sitting on their hands and raise statutory sick pay to at least the real Living Wage. And they must ensure that everyone has access to it.”