People on low incomes in areas with high coronavirus infection rates will be eligible for a payment of up to £182 if they have to self-isolate, the government has announced.
This rises to £182 – or £13 a day – for people they have been in close contact with, including members of their household, who have to isolate for 14 days.
The move follows weeks of campaigning by regional mayors, councils and trade unions who said millions of people across the country could not afford to isolate without pay for a fortnight.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, had suggested that low-paid workers should be paid their full normal wage for the quarantine period, which employers would then claim back from government.
Burnham said he was pleased ministers had acknowledged the issue but that it went “nowhere near far enough” to support people. He added: “The health secretary has already said that he couldn’t live on statutory sick pay (SSP) at £95 a week. So how can an announcement like this work?
“For many workers in Greater Manchester, this will not provide the support people need to cooperate with NHS test and trace. Having belatedly acknowledged that something needs to be done, government must now accept the calls of the ‘time out to help out’ campaign and support people across the country to self-isolate on full pay.”
There had been intense lobbying behind the scenes with many senior figures involved with test and trace, including its leader, Dido Harding, thought to have been sympathetic to concerns that low-paid workers could not afford to self-isolate.
It is understood the issue was raised with Cabinet Office officials last week on a visit to Oldham, where they were told that it was a huge barrier for some.
Millions of low-paid workers either do not qualify for the statutory sick pay of £95.85 a week or cannot afford to live on the allowance, leaving them unable to pay their bills if they have to quarantine.
In Germany, people who have to quarantine are paid their regular wage for seven weeks. Thereafter they get 70% of their salary in sickness pay. In China, people asked to self-isolate at home for two weeks have all their rent, food and bills covered by the government.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “The British public have already sacrificed a great deal to help slow the spread of the virus. Self-isolating if you have tested positive for Covid-19, or have come into contact with someone who has, remains vital to keeping on top of local outbreaks.
“This new payment scheme will help people on low incomes and who are unable to work from home to continue playing their part in the national fight against this virus.”
Individuals will have to either have tested positive for coronavirus or have been asked to self-isolate by NHS test and trace to be eligible for the payment. They will then need to prove the necessary evidence of their notification, and a bank statement.
Payments will be provided within 48 hours of providing the necessary evidence. If the trial proves successful, it will be rolled out quickly to other areas with high infection rates.