22 January 2021

‘No plans’ to pay £500 to everyone who tests Covid-positive, says No 10

22 January 2021

Downing Street has said there are “no plans” to go ahead with a proposal to pay £500 to everyone who tests positive for coronavirus in order to increase the number of people abiding by quarantine rules.

Ministers have considered a proposal to extend payments to anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 in England amid concerns of low compliance for self-isolation, but No 10 played down the possibility, insisting the “vast majority continue to abide by the rules”.

Scientific advisers welcomed the suggestion of more financial support but Treasury sources were adamant the plan will not go ahead, with one telling the PA news agency bluntly: “Won’t happen.”

The proposal of extending £500 payments to everyone who tests positive for Covid-19 in England, rather than just those who are on low incomes and are unable to work from home, is estimated to cost up to £453 million per week.

It is the “preferred position” of Matt Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care, according to a leaked document seen by The Guardian, with concerns that only 17% of people with symptoms are coming forward for testing.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “There are no plans to introduce an extra £500 payment.

“The vast majority of the public continue to abide by the rules and do isolate when they are asked.”

Pressed on concerns over compliance, the spokesman said: “I would point to the fact that more people are being tested than ever before.

“People are coming forward for tests and the vast majority continue to abide by the rules.”

There was hostility to the proposal in some parts of the Government, with one source saying the plan “incentivises people to catch Covid”.

But there was support from experts, with Professor Stephen Reicher, who is advising the Government’s coronavirus response, saying universal payments to self-isolate must form an “essential element of our pandemic response”.

How NHS Test and Trace works (PA Graphics)

The Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B) adviser told BBC News: “You can’t have a bureaucratic system, you can’t have a system where people don’t know whether they will get the support or not, it has to be immediate.

“The way to do that is to make it universal.”

He said a “comprehensive package of care”, including easy access to money, is “the big hole that we have to fill if we want to succeed”.

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said that “one of the key problems actually is people isolating”.

“Some kind of support for people so they can see through their isolation is actually pretty important, so that we really do get on top of these numbers,” he told Times Radio.

Dr Tildesley suggested there are signs the “lockdown is possibly working” in getting the virus’s spread under control, but said it is “unclear how we can tighten restrictions further”.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said a full border closure to all visitors from abroad has been considered, adding that there “is concern at the moment about the number of mutant strains”.

He said the nation will be “getting back to life closer to normal” in the summer, telling ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “It may not be back to normal, but we will be by then, let’s hope, out of the lockdown.”

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK (PA Graphics)

The £500 payment plan was reportedly prompted by Government polling indicating that only 17% of people with symptoms are coming forward for testing.

Some 25% are thought to comply with rules to self-isolate for 10 days after testing positive and 15% continue to go to work as normal.

The Resolution Foundation think tank said the current approach, which it estimates only around 13% of workers are eligible for, is “not fit for purpose”.

Researcher Maja Gustafsson said: “Swiftly putting in place a much more universal and generous system will make a real difference to controlling the spread of the virus.”

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