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Huge demand for self-isolation support sees councils facing big funding shortfall, TUC study reveals

The TUC has today warned that demand for self-isolation payments is significantly outstripping the available funding, as 7 in 10 (70%) applicants end up without financial support.

  • NEW ANALYSIS: TUC study of 175 local authorities shows demand for self-isolation scheme outstrips allocated funding, as 7 in 10 applicants end up without support
  • Some councils had to close discretionary schemes due to a lack of funding and more than 1 in 4 councils ran out of or were close to running out of funding
  • Union body warns lack of decent sick pay is a “gaping hole” in the UK’s public health approach

This funding shortfall is 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 self-isolation payment scheme was introduced by 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.

Local authorities use discretionary grants to support applicants who do not meet the strict government-set criteria for the main self-isolation scheme. According to the Resolution Foundation, 7 in 8 workers aren’t eligible for the main scheme, so instead, have to rely on discretionary payments.

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 show that the amount of initial money provided by central government would not have been enough to meet the demand for around 50% of English councils – let alone nationwide.

The union body estimates that in early January there was a £28 million shortfall for the discretionary scheme – a gap that remains today despite recent additional funding.

The study – the largest of its kind to date – also reveals that at the point of response, more than 1 in 4 (27%) local authorities in England had either run out of funding for the discretionary self-isolation scheme or were close to doing so.

Too little too late

The government recently announced an additional £20m for the self-isolation scheme, including £10m for the discretionary scheme.

However, the TUC says 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.

Reigate and Banstead and Somerset West and Taunton councils, for example, had to temporarily close their discretionary schemes when the initial funding ran out. This risked leaving people in those local authority areas with no access to much needed support due to a lack of central government funding.  

Other councils – such as Wakefield, North East Lincolnshire and Torbay – have been funding the scheme themselves in order to keep up with demand.

Postcode lottery

The TUC says the uncertainty around funding compounded the postcode lottery that exists within the scheme.

The self-isolation scheme was originally set to end on 31 January 2021, but the government did not clarify if funding would be topped up until mid-January.

The union body says low funding, combined with uncertainty over future funding, seems to have created reluctance among some councils to offer discretionary grants for fear of an outbreak which could lead to money running out.

As a result, the discretionary application success rate is incredibly low in some local authorities, with 30 of the 116 councils who provided a breakdown having a success rate of 10% or less.

This means that in a quarter of councils, 90% of applications to the discretionary scheme were rejected. In six local authorities, only 1 or 2% of applications were accepted.

The union body says the majority of applicants to the scheme have been left without the financial support they need to self-isolate. The research found:

  • Overall, 7 in 10 (70%) applications to the scheme end up without payment
  • For discretionary payments, just 1 in 5 (21%) applications are successful
  • Less than four-in-ten (37%) applications to the main self-isolation scheme get the grant

Decent sick pay for all

The TUC says these findings show that the current system isn’t working.

The union body is calling for statutory sick pay to be raised to the level of the real Living Wage of £330 a week and extended to all workers. This will stop workers suffering hardship when required to self-isolate.

The union body says the lack of decent sick pay is undermining the country's public health effort at a crucial stage in the fight against the coronavirus.

Statutory sick pay stands at just £95.85 a week and is worth less today in real terms than it was a decade ago. It has remained the same in the midst of a severe public health crisis, despite repeated calls to raise it by the TUC.

The UK currently has one of the lowest rates of sick pay in Europe and nearly two million workers do not earn enough to qualify for it – most of them women. 

Many workers relying on statutory sick pay would see a massive hit to their incomes if they contract the virus.

Recent TUC polling revealed that two-fifths (40%) of workers say they would have to go into debt, or go into arrears on their bills, if their income dropped to £96 a week – the current level of statutory sick pay.

The poll also revealed that for workers forced to self-isolate but unable to work from home, 1 in 5 (20%) received no sick pay (or wages) at all.

Test and trace chief Dido Harding said last week that people were “scared” to come forward for a test because of a lack of government financial support.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady yesterday 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.

“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.”

Click here for the full press release


Original article link: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/huge-demand-self-isolation-support-sees-councils-facing-big-funding-shortfall-tuc-study

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