A Government scheme to help the lowest paid people with one-off payments to help them afford to self-isolate is failing because not enough people qualify for the help, Knowsley Council has warned.
The council has revealed that since the self-isolation payments began, it has had to reject two thirds of all applications for self-isolation payments made by people in Knowsley, because they were unable to meet the criteria set out by Government. It means families are left to choose between self-isolating to help stop the spread of Covid and putting food on their table – something Cllr Aston, Knowsley’s Cabinet Member for Resources, says is “simply unacceptable.”
Knowsley is currently battling the highest rates of COVID-19 in the whole of the UK and the Council is growing increasingly concerned about the numbers of people who are not entitled to financial support to self-isolate.
Now the council is calling upon the Government to swiftly rethink the rules around its self-isolation payments and make some “common sense” changes that will support lower earners follow self-isolation rules.
Cllr Aston said: “The self-isolation payment is supposed to be a safety net for those on low incomes. And actually, it is designed to protect us all – because self-isolating when you need to is one of the most important ways we can stop the spread of this virus to others.
“The Government obviously recognise that in some cases, people are being made to choose between doing the right thing and self-isolating or being able to feed their families, or pay the bills that keep a roof over their heads. Surely, that’s why they introduced the self-isolation payments in the first place. But to then attach so many caveats and restrictions that only a small number of people who need this help actually qualify for it, makes a complete mockery of the whole process.”
Fundamentally, the system requires each person claiming self-isolation benefit to have an NHS Test and Trace reference number – which people often don’t have. For example, where children within a bubble at school are sent home, the parent / guardian of any of those children won’t have an NHS Test & Trace number but will need to stay at home self-isolating with their child. This is just one example.
So far, Knowsley Council has had more than 1,000 applications for self-isolation payments but has had to turn down more than 63% of them because they don’t meet the criteria set by Government.
“What we are then left to wonder is – will that 63% of people feel able to stay home and do what they should be doing – or will they be unable to because of the financial impact?” said Cllr Aston. “And if they decide they can’t afford to self-isolate – what is the impact on those they come into contact with?
“To put people in such a horrendous position is simply unacceptable,” said Cllr Aston.
“Here in Knowsley, we have some of the highest rates of Covid-19 in the country. Our rates are beginning to fall, but only very slowly. We have a high number of residents who are working in front line essential jobs, who are unable to work from home. Many of them use public transport to get to these jobs as we have a lower level of car ownership than in other places. We need to do better to protect and support those who should be self-isolating.
“Unfortunately, the way the Government has set up this fund leaves us with little or no discretion. They need to review this as a matter of urgency and make the sensible amendments that are needed to ensure this money reaches those it should and has the impact on our communities that we need it to.”