Don’t force workers to chose between self-isolating or paying the bills, campaigners tell government

Workers who are asked to self-isolate should not do so at the expense of their income, say campaigners.

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A new campaign demanding that workers still get paid when asked to self-isolate was launched on Monday. Titled ‘Time Out to Help Out’, it is asking those told to self-isolate under the NHS Test and Trace system still get compensated.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester and Steve Rotheram, Mayor of Liverpool City Region, and the General Secretary of the TUC are behind the initiative. It is also backed by Unison, GMB, Usdaw, Unite and CWU as well as businesses.

Despite contact tracing being vital in controlling outbreaks, only 78% of those tested positive were reached and asked to provide contact information. Of those reached, 20% did not give any contacts.

Campaigners say this is because people are fearful of losing their pay if asked to self-isolate and are unable to work from home.

Many employees in sectors like retail, hospitality and manufacturing are not even able to claim the £95.85 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) because their earnings are too low. The self-employed do not have an income and may have barriers to claiming Universal Credit, for a maximum of £409.89 for those over 25.

The campaign is calling for employees to be paid their normal wage if asked to self-isolate. It also says for employers should be able to claim that sum, plus the difference in income for those on SSP, from the government.

The campaign is proposing that the self-employed who can’t work from home be able to claim a loss of earnings in the same way as the people who are asked to do jury service.

Mayor Rotheram, said that while a fully functional track and trace system is the ‘best hope’ to spread the spread of the virus many are ‘dreading’ being asked to self-isolate.

He added:“We cannot beat this virus by asking people to choose between putting food on the table or keeping their communities safe. People should be supported, not penalised, for doing the right thing and isolating at home.

“As the Government are right to want self-isolating to be seen as a national duty. But when performing other national duties like jury service, we do not expect people to be left destitute. This should be no different.”

Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary 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.”

Sophia Dourou is a freelance journalist

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