Scottish and Welsh parents on low incomes can get financial support to look after self-isolating children – now those in England must too
At Prime Minister’s Questions last week, I asked the Prime Minister whether he would extend to parents on low incomes in England the financial support that parents in a comparable situation can now get in Wales and Scotland, if they stop work to be at home with a child who is self-isolating.
Refusing to do this would continue to force thousands of struggling parents across the country into further hardship, with children and families paying a heavy price for doing the right thing.
My constituent Charlotte, a single parent, was shocked last week to find out that as a low income parent who had to stop work because she cannot do her job from home, she was not eligible for the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment.
She applied for this when the school sent her five-year-old son home to self-isolate after another child tested positive for Covid. Yet because it was her young child who was self-isolating and not her, current rules mean she is not entitled to any support. Unbelievably there is no differentiation based on the age of child, or for a child with special needs.
With increasing numbers of cases more children could be off school across the country, this is not an issue that is going away. And for low income single parents particularly, it is an impossible situation. Since September, Charlotte’s son has been off school for 20 days due to needing to self-isolate on two occasions. On top of having support a young child stuck at home missing school, it is wrecking already fragile family finances for those on the lowest incomes.
Charlotte says: “I have lost income and I am struggling financially. I have spent days calling round, asking for help or answers as no one is helping me. This £500 was meant to help me get through Christmas and now I have been told I won't get it.”.
The House of Commons Library confirms that if a low income parent of a self-isolating child is not themselves required to self-isolate, they may need to use annual leave or take unpaid time off for dependents. This is a serious and growing gap in the Government support that is affecting the most vulnerable.
Indeed, when the scheme was first announced on 27 August Labour raised concerns about gaps in support for those who would need to be off work for the system to work. On 18 November Anneliese Dodds wrote to the Chancellor about issues with the self-isolation payment, raising the eligibility of parents and this particular concern. The BBC also has covered the issue of single parents “struggling” as children are forced to self-isolate, with charities raising concerns that those whose jobs cannot be done from home are simply forced to go without pay.
Both Welsh and Scottish Governments have extended their respective £500 self-isolation payments to include parents on low incomes whose children are asked to self-isolate. In Wales people have been able to apply for the self-isolation payment via their local authority website from 14 December and payments will be backdated to 23 October. In Scotland, it was introduced from 7 December.
No one can seriously claim that being asked to self-isolate is materially different from being asked to isolate your young child. The Prime Minister should give low income parents who have to stop work to be with their children the financial support they need to make ends meet. If parents in Wales and Scotland can now get this support, the onus is now on the Prime Minister to extend that support to parents in England.
If he means what he said in Parliament, that he said he would do his very best to address this issue, then as parents approach Christmas with fear and rising household debt, he should act fast, and act now.