Skip to main content

Covid-19: Self-isolation Payment Scheme

Volume 805: debated on Wednesday 2 September 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are the eligibility criteria for the new payment scheme for people self-isolating and unable to work from home in areas with a high incidence of COVID-19.

My Lords, to be eligible for this payment, individuals must live in Blackburn with Darwen, Oldham or Pendle and have been asked to self-isolate by Test and Trace, be employed or self-employed, stand to lose income because they are unable to work from home while self-isolating, and receive at least one of the following benefits: universal credit, working tax credit, income-related employment and support allowance, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income support or pension credit or housing benefit.

My Lords, I am grateful. People are told to quarantine as soon as they have symptoms and wherever they live. Can I ask the Minister two questions? First, why is the payment only for those who have had a positive test or been told to isolate by NHS test and trace? Secondly, the Government’s description of the scheme says that it is intended only for those in high-infection areas, but if there is an outbreak elsewhere, in a care home or a factory, do those workers not need support? If they cannot afford to stay at home, does that not risk creating a new high-infection area?

My Lords, the reality of the epidemic is that it targets some communities in specific areas with laser-like focus. The feedback from some of those communities, local authorities and community leaders is that support is needed in some areas where there has been a local lockdown. We have responded to those suggestions and put this financial support in place for specific communities in specific areas. In that, we are responding to local suggestions.

My Lords, can the Minister explain the evidence base for the decision that £13 a day would be sufficient to persuade low-paid workers to forgo their earnings and self-isolate?

My Lords, I am not sure that I heard all the question. Can I just explain that those who are isolated for 10 days will receive £130? Other eligible members of their household who have been self-isolating will also be entitled to a payment. Eligible non-household contacts instructed to stay at home and to self-isolate will also be entitled to a payment of up to £182.

My Lords, what is the difference in the Government agreeing to pay only certain low-paid people £13 a day to do their civic duty to stop the spread of a deadly virus, but up to £70 a day for anyone to serve on a jury?

My Lords, what current criteria are the Government using to determine local lockdowns? In the light of reports from Manchester today, what improvements, if any, have been made in the area of local consultation and the imposition of a local lockdown since the decisions of 30 June in Leicester?

My Lords, a huge amount of data, both national and local, gets put into the local lockdown process during the gold meetings of the JBC. The liaison between gold and local authorities and local MPs has been improved and upgraded massively in the last few weeks. I cannot share any update from the JBC meetings today.

My Lords, there are many situations where citizens are being mandated to self-isolate or quarantine, such as specific workplaces or specific countries or, as we have seen at the weekend, with the flight from Zante. However, those people may not live in areas with high incidence of Covid-19. In these circumstances, how will such people be covered by any benefits so that the choice is not between feeding themselves or health protection for anyone affected?

My Lords, under the current scheme, benefits are provided to those who live in Blackburn with Darwen, Oldham or Pendle. It does not extend to other areas. We will assess the impact of this scheme and review whether it should or could be extended in any way.

My Lords, support for the most vulnerable in undertaking self-isolation should not just, as suggested, be a matter of financial support, important though that is. It should include emotional and mental health support to the household. Does the Minister agree? What provision is being made for this sort of support? In so far as it is provided by local authorities, will adequate funding be made available to them?

The noble Lord is entirely right. The decision to isolate is extremely tough for a great many people, both economically and psychologically. The importance of isolation is absolutely critical in our battle against Covid. We have to think of ways of supporting people in every way we can. That is the responsibility of local authorities, and we have provided them with £300 million of funding to support their isolation, test and trace programme. I would like to pay tribute to local authorities that are doing a fantastic job of putting support in place for those who are isolating in expectation of the winter.

My Lords, I speak from Pendle, and declare my interests, where council staff and the council leadership are working heroically in the front line of the Covid battle. This is a welcome although very small step. Is the Minister aware, though, that our determination to test, test, test and find positive cases is greatly hindered by the inefficient and failing national tracking, contact and isolate system and by the complex, obscure and bureaucratic way in which decisions on local restrictions and support are being made? Will the Government give much more authority and resources to local people with the skills and local knowledge that are needed, particularly in tracking down local contacts and persuading them to co-operate? Give us the tools and we will get on with the job.

The noble Lord gives fascinating testimony, and I pay tribute to the council in Pendle, which is well known for its energetic approach in dealing with the epidemic. I honestly say a massive thank you to all those in Pendle who are working so hard. Despite what the noble Lord has just said, they are being successful. The strategy is working and they are fighting the disease and breaking the chains of transmission, and we are all hopeful that Pendle will be restored to normal life as soon as possible. Our approach is to give those on the ground the tools they need, exactly as the noble Lord asks. I am hopeful that that is happening. I hear reports that it is, and that is very much the emphasis of our approach.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that if local spikes appear around the United Kingdom, this scheme will be available to them? Will it be available in Glasgow, for example? Can he confirm that enough flexibility will be allowed to those administrating the scheme to ensure that those who need the scheme, whose circumstances will vary greatly, will be able to get it quickly and expeditiously?

The noble Lord asks a wide-ranging set of questions. We are looking at the effectiveness of the scheme. We are working with DAs to see whether the scheme could or should be extended in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Once that review is done and we have assessed its impact, we will be able to make decisions of the kind he describes.

The headline figure of £13 can be, and has been, taken out of context. Can my noble friend the Minister reconfirm that the payment will not impact existing benefit entitlements?

My Lords, the payment itself will not affect existing benefits in any way. Payments through the scheme will, though, be subject to income tax and some form of national insurance contribution, in line with other support payments such as through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

My Lords, I return to the question asked by my noble friend Lady Lister. What was the evidence base for the decision that £13 a day would be sufficient to persuade low-paid workers to forgo their earnings and therefore self-isolate? The Minister did not answer the question the first time round; perhaps he could answer it now. What were the criteria?

The evidence base and criteria were our discussions with local authorities and community leaders on what an effective amount would be that would tip the balance in a personal decision to isolate. As I said earlier, those personal decisions are extremely tough. It was agreed with local infection teams and authorities that this was the kind of sum that would make a difference.

Sitting suspended.