People who are self-isolating need to be paid, for God’s sake

·4-min read
<p>‘Self-isolation is an effective means of stopping the spread, with all the new, more transmissible variants that keep popping up’</p> (AFP via Getty Images)

‘Self-isolation is an effective means of stopping the spread, with all the new, more transmissible variants that keep popping up’

(AFP via Getty Images)

Imagine if Boris Johnson had been knocking about in biblical times. I’m thinking about when there was a big disaster on the horizon, namely, “the flood”.

Let’s assume he managed to convince God he was a righteous man – and yes, I know that looks like it might be a stretch, but if you read the story of Lot you’ll see that it wasn’t always as hard as you might think (or hope).

Anyway, in our new reality, God said: “Look, I’m pretty cross, so there’s going to be 40 days and 40 nights of rain and then the mother of all floods. Noah: build an ark. Oh and cousin Boz? You build one too.”

Noah duly did as he was advised, the animals went in two by two, and the rest is biblical history.

As for Boris (aka stupid Noah), he’d have said: “Well, ummm. You see, there was that trip to Assyria I had coming and I didn’t want to upset the boss man there, and people might have thought I was overreacting, and think of the money! Wait a minute... those waters look like they’re rising awfully fast. Quick: start a culture war so no one realises what a muppet I’ve been!”

And there we have it. Fresh evidence that Johnson is indeed the “stupid Noah” of the Covid-era came with the news that the government is at last, more than a year into this nightmare, trialling mini “Covid-arks” to help people required to self isolate.

Some bright spark in the government – maybe it was Matt Hancock, maybe it was one of his civil servants – seems to have worked out that there are a lot of people in this country who live in multi-occupancy housing, with several generations crammed into one small building. This is what happens when you sell off all your social housing and fail to build more. But that’s one for another day.

If the NHS track and trace app says “thou shalt self-isolate” to one of the working family members in this sort of housing, there’s a problem, because it’s not actually possible to do that. If they’ve got Covid, the whole family’s going to get it too, including the elderly grandparents and… well, you know what happens next.

Self-isolation is an effective means of stopping the spread, and it’s still unfortunately necessary with all the new, more transmissible variants that keep popping up with alarming regularity, as the government races to get the vaccine out to people who haven’t had it – before they gain traction.

The trouble is, people asked to do that are frequently left on the horns of a series of nasty dilemmas. They roll the dice and go to work to feed the family, or they self-isolate and manage on £95-a-week statutory sick pay (if they’re lucky) in a home in which self-isolation isn’t actually possible, because the government (again) came over all “stupid Noah” when £500 payments were on the agenda – and failed to consider other support, such as providing suitable self-isolation accommodation, until now.

Yes, yes, I know, you can apply to get extra cash from your local council for a while, but this requires more hoops to be jumped through than a dog competing in one of those ridiculous Crufts obedience competitions; and I’m not sure it’s at all well known. There’s also the problem of the inevitable delay before getting paid – which people on low incomes can’t easily handle.

None of this is revelatory stuff. I’ve been banging on about it for months now. So has the TUC. So have politicians, including a few of the brighter lights on the government (back)benches.

A wider, better package of self-isolation support measures would ultimately pay for themselves, through getting the pandemic properly squashed and the economy fully reopened. Just look at the impact on government borrowing that the steps taken so far have had: it was £15.6bn lower in April 2021 than it was in 2020.

So, it’s welcome that the government is now trying things out, but why, at this stage, just a trial? With local lockdowns coming as another new variant bites, the time to start building the self-isolation ark was months ago. How is it that this even needs to be said?

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