Hundreds of people in Plymouth who applied for financial support while self-isolating due to the Covid-19 pandemic received no money, it has emerged.
A Freedom of Information Request from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) revealed 60% of applications for the Government’s self-isolation scheme in Plymouth were rejected.
It emerged that Plymouth City Council ran out of discretionary funding to support low-paid workers to isolate when they tested positive for coronavirus.
The union body warns that a lack of “decent” sick pay is undermining the UK’s public health approach. It warned that too many workers are going without the financial support they need to self-isolate in Plymouth, as it released findings which show three in five applications to the self-isolation scheme in the city were rejected.
The TUC research found that out of 1,383 applications in Plymouth, only 565 applicants received financial support to isolate. Plymouth City Council has already exhausted its Government-allocated discretionary fund to support workers and had to access limited local funds to cover extra payments made, the TUC discovered.
Meanwhile, Plymouth City Council said that it has received 1,400 applications for Additional Restrictions Grants (ARG), since February 1, and has to close the scheme at 5pm on Monday, February 15, after running out of cash.
The ARG is designed to support businesses that aren’t covered by other Covid support schemes and Plymouth has seen a high volume of applications daily, and with a council spokesman saying: “From the start of the process, we have been clear that demand for support is likely to outstrip the funding available, which is already the case with the quantity of applications we have received.
“We are prioritising the allocation of this funding carefully. We will be assessing the demand and allocations, with a focus on paying priority sectors first before looking at what support may be available for applications from other sectors.”
This all comes as across the South West, more than half of applications (55%) to the self-isolation scheme ended up without a payment.
At the point of response, 44% of South West councils which responded to the research had already run out or were close to running out of discretionary funding.
The self-isolation payment scheme was introduced by the Government on September 28, 2020, six months into the pandemic. The scheme offers a one-off £500 payment for those who need to self-isolate because of coronavirus but cannot work from home.
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Local authorities use discretionary grants to support applicants who do not meet the strict Government-set criteria for the main self-isolation scheme.
According to the Resolution Foundation, seven in eight workers aren’t eligible for the main scheme, so instead, have to rely on discretionary payments.
The TUC said most applicants to the scheme have been left without the financial support they need to self-isolate. The TUC warns the Government’s “severe underfunding of the scheme nationally” is putting pressure on local authorities such as Plymouth to either plug the funding gap themselves or reject applications from low-paid workers who need financial support to self-isolate.
The Government recently announced an additional £20million for the self-isolation scheme, including £10million for the discretionary scheme.
However, the TUC said this is “too little too late” as it would not be enough to satisfy demand and comes after councils have had to spend money plugging the gap themselves.
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The self-isolation scheme was originally set to end on January 31, 2021, but the Government did not clarify if funding would be topped up until mid-January.
The TUC said many workers may have been forced to go to work because of delays to further Government support. The TUC is calling for statutory sick pay to be raised to the level of the real Living Wage of £330 a week and extended to all workers.
Statutory sick pay stands at £95.85 a week . Nearly two million workers do not earn enough to qualify for it – most of them are women.
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TUC South West regional secretary Nigel Costley said: “No one should be forced to choose between doing the right thing and being plunged into hardship. The current system of patchy self-isolation payments and paltry sick pay just isn’t working.
“Too many low-paid workers in the South West are going without the financial support they need to self-isolate. These failures have forced workers to make the difficult choice of protecting lives or their livelihoods.
“The Government could easily fix the problem tomorrow by offering decent sick pay to those who need to self-isolate. Ministers must stop turning a blind eye and raise statutory sick pay to at least the real Living Wage. And they must make sure every worker has access to it.”