After months of waiting, the Government finally launched its Test and Trace scheme this week to much fanfare. Since then there have been several well-publicised issues with the programme including IT problems, contact tracers not having any work and the delayed launch of the app it relies on.
But aside from these serious teething problems, the scheme faces another fundamental issue that urgently needs to be addressed. Those being asked to self-isolate are not being offered proper financial support.
One of the reasons I’m running to be the next leader of the Liberal Democrats is that I want to listen to what members are saying on the key issues facing the country, and their ideas for how to fix them. A few days ago, I was struck by a suggestion in the Lib Dem Newbies Policy & Politics Group that the party should be campaigning to ensure those self-isolating are given support equivalent to that under the furlough scheme.
Employees who have to self-isolate under the scheme are currently only entitled to receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) of £95 a week. That is around five times less than the £460 net income a week received by a worker earning the maximum of £2,500 a month under the furlough scheme. And while the minimum isolation period is two weeks, some people may have to wait longer for their test or be asked to self-isolate several times. I’m therefore advocating for the Government to step up its financial support workers required to self-isolate under the coronavirus test and trace programme and ensure they receive the same level of support as furloughed employees.
This should be a no brainer. People should not be forced to suffer financial hardship for doing the right thing and self-isolating. If we don’t ensure employees are given proper support, people will face an impossible choice between paying their bills or putting their colleagues and communities at risk. Crucially, the short-term cost to the exchequer will be nothing compared to the long-term impact of failing to control another outbreak.
A Government survey published last year found that over one in four (26%) employees who were paid sick pay only received the statutory minimum, while 57% were paid more and 17% did not know. This suggests that around eight million of the UK’s 30 million workers are only eligible for Statutory Sick Pay and would not receive any additional support from their employer, with young people and women particularly hard hit. Another two million workers do not even qualify for Statutory Sick Pay and so risk not being provided with any financial support at all.
This shows how crucial it is that the Government fix this gaping flaw in the Test and Trace programme and ensure people are not left out of pocket for doing the right thing.
Coronavirus has exposed deep inequality and unfairness in our society. We shouldn’t go back to the way things were. We must seize the moment to change, and Move Forward Together as a fairer, greener, more compassionate country, where everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive.
I am determined to run a positive campaign on how we move the Liberal Democrats and the United Kingdom forward. That means listening to members and building a vision for rebuilding the party and country together. To join my campaign, please sign up here, or to get in touch please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.
The Torch has reached out to all leadership candidates to invite them to submit articles on their vision for the party and the country. Each candidate will be allowed up to three such pieces in the run-up to the leadership election.