The government should provide full salary and a bonus for people self-isolating
Although the government has made £500 pounds available to those self-isolating, it is hard to access and, for many working families, it is simply not enough, writes Munira Wilson MP. | PA Images
The government’s self-isolation system is weak and inadequate. The government needs to empower those struggling to do the right thing by providing support and resources.
The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that he was self-isolating earlier this week. I hope that this is only precautionary and that he is well. I also hope that he will reflect on how straightforward it was for him to isolate. He can easily work from home and I presume has the space to separate himself from his family.
For many, though, it is an extremely difficult decision. Everyone wants to play their part, and no one wants to pass the virus on, but when sick pay is so low and few are finding it easy to access government support it leaves many with an impossible choice. Do you self-isolate or put food on the table?
That may seem exaggerated, but it is a choice many are being forced to take. And it is clear why. The willingness to self-isolate is there but the support and resources are not. Although the government has made £500 pounds available to those self-isolating, it is hard to access and, for many working families, it is simply not enough. Just recently, a constituent wrote to me stating that he will not be self-isolating again if told to because he had been unable to access the self-isolation payment.
It is far more economical to break the chains of transmission through enabling people to follow the rules than an endless cycle of lockdowns
Others, living in over-crowded housing do not have the space to self-isolate. Some with caring responsibilities simply cannot.
The rollout of the vaccine has rightly brought us a great sense of hope that the end of this pandemic is in sight. But the vaccine can only do so much so quickly, we still need to prevent hospitalisations and the debilitating effects of long Covid. That means controlling the spread of the virus with testing, tracing and most critically self-isolation.
In Matt Hancock’s own words “self-isolation is perhaps the most important part of all the social distancing because I know from the app I’ve been in close contact with somebody who has tested positive and this is how we break the chains of transmission.” He is of course right, but this claim remains hollow when the government’s self-isolation system is so weak and inadequate.
In Taiwan 99% of people stick to the self-isolation rules, in the UK only 62% do. It is clear why this gap exists. The difference is the support and resources that Taiwan and other countries give their citizens. In many countries, people are properly supported throughout their isolation period. In some they are even paid a bonus to complete the full isolation period as a reward for fulfilling their public duty.
The UK should learn from this best practice and follow these countries’ lead. It is clear what works so let’s do it.
The government should be providing full salary and a bonus for self-isolating. If you don’t have the space, you should be provided with a free hotel room nearby. And if you’re a carer then you should be given all the support you need to ensure you can isolate without your dependant being deprived of care.
If we are to avoid local outbreaks in the future and remove restrictions as soon as possible, we must fix our self-isolation system.
It also makes economic sense to invest resources to support self-isolation: it is far more economical to break the chains of transmission through enabling people to follow the rules than an endless cycle of lockdowns.
No one should be forced to choose between doing the right thing and providing for their loved ones.
Everyone wants to play their part in ending this pandemic. Slowing the spread of this terrible disease is everyone’s priority. The government now needs to empower those struggling to do the right thing.
Munira Wilson is the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for health and social care.