Fears £500 COVID sick pay to workers could be scrapped this month

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak speaks with previously furloughed staff at the London Wonderground comedy and music festival venue in London, on August 5, 2021. (Photo by PETER NICHOLLS / POOL / AFP) (Photo by PETER NICHOLLS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
It is unclear if workers on low incomes will continue to receive a £500 payment upon testing positive for COVID when the government lift restrictions in March. (Getty Images) (PETER NICHOLLS via Getty Images)

The government has been urged to explain whether financial support for workers who test positive for COVID will remain in place when all domestic rules are scrapped later this month.

Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that the government is likely to end all domestic COVID laws - including mandatory self-isolation for those who testing positive - on 24 February, claiming it is part of the government's strategy to "live with the virus".

But there is uncertainty over whether the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment for low-income workers will also be axed.

“Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive – a full month early," the prime minister said.

Read more: COVID infections go up as Boris Johnson signals end to all restrictions

At present, those on low incomes in England can claim the lump sum if they are asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace.

The scheme, brought in at the end of September 2020, was intended to provide income support for those who cannot work from home and have lost income as a result of being forced to isolate.

However, it remains unclear how legal changes to self-isolation requirements will impact the £500 payments workers are entitled to.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Number 10 was unable to confirm to Yahoo News UK whether the payments would remain. The Treasury has also been contacted for comment, but had not replied by the time of publishing.

Jonathan Ashworth MP, shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, speaks during the 2021 Labour Party Conference in Brighton. Picture date: Tuesday September 28, 2021. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/Empics
Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth urged the government to be "clear" about the future of support for workers testing positive for COVID-19. (PA Images) (Empics Entertainment)

When approached on the issue on the future of the £500 isolation payments, Labour said the government need to be "clear" about what happens when restrictions ease.

"Ministers need to be clear with the British public about the support they'll receive if they're off sick with COVID," shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Yahoo News UK.

He also said: "Changes to restrictions can't be excuse to weaken statutory sick pay."

Labour has repeatedly demanded increases in sick pay for workers throughout the pandemic amid concerns workers are continuing to go to work after testing positive because payments are not high enough.

Read more: COVID: The 2 regions where cases have started to increase

The UK has one of the lowest rates of statutory sick pay in any developed nation, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In 2018, the European Committee of Social Rights described the level as “manifestly inadequate” and “not in conformity” with the European Social Charter.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has also called on the government to make it clear to workers what will happen to the payment when restrictions end.

Close-up of rapid Covid-19 home lateral flow antigen test with positive result
Brits will no longer be legally required to isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 from next month. (Getty Creative) (Ilze Kalve via Getty Images)

Elsewhere, a growing number of experts have criticised the government's plans to end legal requirements to self-isolate after receiving a positive COVID test, questioning the science behind the decision.

Dr James Gill, honorary clinical lecturer, Warwick Medical School, said: “Frankly I see no justifiable reason for the scrapping of this law, certainly not from the perspective of patients, nor from a business case either as the Omicron variant is highly contagious, and thus more likely to spread through a staff group if people feel compelled to come to work with a “mild COVID-19 infection”."

Read more: WHO warns countries not to act like 'lemmings' and open up too quickly

A spokesperson for Number 10 said that, while mandatory restrictions will end next month, guidance will remain for people to stay at home if they have COVID.

"Obviously, in the same way [as] someone with flu, we wouldn't recommend they go to work," they said.

"We would never recommend anyone comes to work when they have an infectious disease."

Watch: Boris Johnson signals early end to Covid self-isolation laws