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Public health bodies demand greater financial support for low-income workers self-isolating

LEADING public-health bodies are demanding that the government provides greater financial support to people on low incomes who are self-isolating — to ensure that infection-control measures are effective.

Today the British Medical Association, Scottish Academy of Royal Colleges, Doctors Association UK and other public-health bodies wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson raising concerns that too many people in precarious and low-wage employment cannot afford to miss work and self-isolate with the financial support currently offered. 

They warned that unless people are given more financial support, infection control will continue to be undermined. 

The signatories welcomed steps made during the pandemic to remove qualifying periods for statutory sick pay (SSP) and provide £500 for eligible low-income households to self-isolate but said that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s winter spending review in November was a missed opportunity to build on these provisions.

They criticised the government for prioritising a £16.5 billion increase in spending while cutting a scheduled rise in the minimum wage and refusing to extend the temporary uplift of universal credit.

Mr Sunak had failed to address the financial barriers undermining the national public-health effort, they added.

The signatories called on the government to maintain income support to at least 80 per cent of wages and to introduce SSP for all in quarantine at 100 per cent of their regular pay.

They also demanded the government amend its “no recourse to public funds” guidance so that migrants can access housing and social and health services, reduce the five-week wait for people to access universal credit and extend its Protect Programme to ensure those that are homeless are protected.

Doctors’ Association UK president Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden said: “The pandemic has unmasked health inequalities across the UK that doctors have been aware of for some time. 

“A co-ordinated and effective response to Covid must include addressing these as a matter of urgency. 

“GPs have been telling the Doctors’ Association UK they are particularly concerned regarding the impact of technological poverty on lower socio-economic groups. 

“Many do not have access to the IT needed for remote consultations and this has not been considered.”

Labour also called on Mr Sunak today to “do the right thing” and make a public statement on economic support measures following data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealing just how precarious the situation was for many businesses, even before the weekend imposition of stricter lockdown measures for most areas.

A total of 690,000 businesses have low or no confidence that they would survive the next three months, ONS found.


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