UK gov’t considers paying people £500 to self-isolate after positive COVID test
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LONDON, England, January 22, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – In an attempt to encourage increased COVID-19 testing, even if a positive test leads to a mandatory self-isolation order, British cabinet ministers are considering paying anyone in England £500 (around $680) if they test positive for COVID-19, The Guardian revealed. The scheme, if given the green light, could cost U.K. taxpayers upwards of £450 million per week.
Currently the British government’s “Test and Trace Support Payment scheme” (TTSP) provides a weekly payment of £500 to those who test positive for COVID-19, cannot earn a living by working from home, have a low income, and receive some manner of government benefits.
Under current legislation, anyone in England who is contacted by NHS Test and Trace is “under legal obligation” to self-isolate for at least ten days, as is anyone who receives a notification that they have been in “close contact” with “someone who has tested positive for coronavirus,” through the government run app. The latter group is eligible for a one-off £500 payment through TTSP.
According to The Guardian, government polling in England discovered that a mere 17% of people with COVID symptoms were presenting themselves for tests, which led the Department of Health and Social Care, headed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, to propose a new incentive whereby anyone in England, regardless of income, could take advantage of the £500 payment if testing positive for COVID-19.
The revelations came from a leaked document drafted by the Department of Health, which The Guardian says is the “preferred position” of Hancock’s department. An official review of the current scheme determined that the application process for payment to self-isolate is too tight and excludes too many people. The government is seeking to expand the scheme so that more people will feel comfortable taking COVID tests, even if that leads to a mandatory self-isolation order.
The report advised that “[a]nyone who tested positive for COVID-19, irrespective of their age, employment status or ability to work from home, would be eligible for TTSP. This would be straightforward for local authorities to administer, though it would lead to significantly greater volumes of applications than under the current scheme.” This is the Health Department’s first choice.
The Department forwarded three alternative proposals, one which qualified that payments could only be made to those who can’t work from home, another which stipulated a low-income threshold of £26,495 (about $36,000) for the lump sum payment, and a final suggestion that keeps the current, more restrictive measurements; but “significantly” expands the ability of local councils to make discretionary payments.
Backing the Health Department’s preferred option, Professor Stephen Reicher, a government adviser from the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours, told the BBC that “you can’t have a system where people don’t know whether they will get the support or not, it has to be immediate. The way to do that is to make it universal.”
Loughborough University professor Duncan Robertson added his voice to those vying for increased testing, saying: “We need to ensure that people are incentivised to come forward for a test, to self-isolate if that test is positive, and not to become infected to collect the bounty.”
The Department of Health did recognize that the expanded payment scheme “could possibly cause perverse incentives for some people who are not working to catch the virus in order to test positive and be paid £500, but the likelihood of this is considered low.”
In addition to a financial incentive to receive a COVID test, the Health Department’s report also nodded towards increasing police powers, such that the police can request health data to enforce self-isolation orders more easily.
The report noted that “[c]ontrary to previous assurances given to the public, this will mean sharing health data (i. E., an indication of who has tested positive for COVID-19) with the police if someone is reported to have breached their legal duty, but this is considered a necessary and proportionate measure — and data-sharing agreements will provide that the information is not used for any other purposes.”
Speaking to the BBC, Environment Secretary George Eustice said he hadn’t yet seen the document from the Department of Health but that “we’ve got to consider all sorts of policies in order to make sure that people abide by the rules, are able to abide by the rules and we get the infection rate down.”
Eustice told Sky News that the country needs “people, if they are asked to self-isolate because they have been contacted through our test and trace, we do need them to self-isolate.” He added that “[no] decisions have been made on this. But this is a dynamic, fast-moving situation with the pandemic.”
The BBC reported that the prime minister has not considered the proposal to revise the TTSP scheme. An official spokesperson for the prime minister, however, has denied any claims that the scheme will be expanded beyond its current state, saying: “We’ve given local authorities £70m for the scheme and they are able to provide extra payments on top of those £500 if they think it necessary. That £500 is on top of any other benefits and statutory sick pay that people are eligible for.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health added that “[we] are in one of the toughest moments of this pandemic and it is incumbent on all of us to help protect the NHS by staying at home and following the rules.”
Almost 96,000 people with a positive COVID-19 test have died in the U.K. in just about one year. With a population of over 66 million, this amounts to 0.14 percent of the population dying within one year.