There are calls for the government to urgently increase the scale and scope of support for people told to self-isolate after it was revealed that 80% of applications for support grants in Liverpool are refused.
Liverpool Walton MP Dan Carden has been raising the issue of people who cannot currently afford to isolate because of the lack of support to help them get by.
There are fears that people may be continuing to spread the disease in the city because they need to go to work and don't want to get tested because of the lack of support.
Mr Carden said people in his constituency have told him they are too worried to come forward for a test for Covid-19 because they fear the impact of losing income if they test positive.
It was recently revealed that during Liverpool's mass asymptomatic testing pilot, the take-up of tests was as low as 4% in the poorest parts of Liverpool.
Mr Carden said: "People want to do the right thing by getting tested, but there’s also real anxiety among the lowest-paid workers and those in insecure work who rely on going out to earn their income.
“We will only get a grip of the virus when everyone can afford to self-isolate. There are too many financial barriers which need to be lifted."
He added: “The Government’s criteria for the £500 self-isolation support grant is so strict that 80% of applicants for the mandatory scheme in Liverpool are refused. The UK has the lowest level of Statutory Sick Pay of any major economy. It simply isn’t enough to live on, and too many people miss out even on that.
“It’s wrong that people are being forced to make impossible choices between doing the right thing or putting food on the table.”
There is also a discretionary element to the support scheme, but funding is limited.
In Liverpool, more than two-thirds of it has already been spent and the Government has not confirmed any further funding.
His argument was backed up by Liverpool Council's cabinet member for health, Cllr Paul Brant, who said it is clear that people are avoiding getting tested 'because they fear they cannot afford to pay their bills when self isolating.'
He added: "The Government’s failure to pay proper sick pay to those isolating fundamentally undermines the whole scheme, and avoidable infections rocket as a result.
"It is a false economy skimping on sick pay because the alternative national lockdowns needed are vastly more expensive.
"International comparisons show that lockdowns are avoided only where there is a properly functioning isolating scheme which doesn’t penalise those doing the right thing.
"The Government must act now to fully fund the pay of those asked to self isolate to protect the wider public.”
Mr Carden presented met with members of the Independent SAGE panel at the back end of last year to discuss the issue of people not being able to afford to self-isolate.
Dr Zubaida Haque said that the low take-up among poorer communities was “extremely concerning” and criticised the “wholly inadequate” level of financial support for those who need to self-isolate.
“Mass roll-out of testing can only happen if people are comfortable with self-isolating and they will only do that if they are supported.”
Anthony Costello, former Director for Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health at the World Health Organisation, said that the 80% refusal rate for the mandatory element of the self-isolation support grant “is an appalling figure” that “blows a cart and horses through the entire system.”
Mr Carden added: "Even before the pandemic, Liverpool was a city on the brink.
"The double whammy of a decade of cuts and now coronavirus is tipping people over the edge.
“The disconnect between what ministers say in Parliament and the reality on the ground is breath-taking.
“People are being left with nothing. Everyone needs an income – to pay their bills, feed their family and heat their homes."
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A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The Test and Trace Support Payment is a targeted scheme designed to help people on low incomes, who cannot work from home, if they are required to self-isolate when they test positive or are identified as a contact.
“Local authorities are responsible for decisions when it comes to making additional discretionary payments to people who fall outside the scope of the main scheme and are facing financial hardship as a result of having to self-isolate.
“From the outset, the Government has committed to covering all payments under the main scheme and administration costs. An initial £50 million was made available in September 2020, with a further £20 million made available this month. More funding for the main scheme and for administration costs will be made available in due course.
“We continue to work closely with the 314 local authorities in England to assess how the scheme is supporting people experiencing financial difficulties.”