Ministers in the UK are drawing up plans to give people greater financial support if they are forced to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid-19, amid fears that some are ignoring the rules because they cannot afford to miss work.
But allies of Rishi Sunak, chancellor, rejected as “bonkers” one idea that people should be paid a one-off flat rate of £500 to self-isolate, a scheme that would be vastly more expensive than the current one.
According to leaked documents obtained by the Guardian, the scheme would cost £453m a week, 12 times more than the more limited compensation currently offered in England.
“It’s the first we’ve heard of it and frankly it’s bonkers,” said one aide to the chancellor. However ministers recognise there is a problem that needs to be resolved to keep the pandemic under control.
The proposed change is thought necessary because a government survey found that only 17 per cent of people with symptoms were coming forward to get a test, owing to fears that a positive result could stop people from working.
According to the leaked document, the universal payment is the “preferred position” of the Department of Health. Another option was a payment to anyone on less than £26,495.
Currently those eligible for discretionary payments or the test and trace support payment receive a £500 lump sum in addition to benefits and sick pay. But only those on a low income who cannot work from home and receive one of seven means-tested benefits are eligible for the payment, which is administered by town halls.
There have also been high rejection rates for those who apply for the payment, according to figures obtained by Labour and shared with the BBC. Between October and December last year, three-quarters of the 49,877 applications were rejected, the data showed.
A health department spokesperson said local authority costs for administering test and trace support payments were covered by central government, and each council was empowered to make discretionary payments outside the scheme.