Payments of £13 per day will soon be given to people on low incomes who are self-isolating in areas that are deemed to be at high risk from coronavirus, the government has announced.
The scheme will be trialled from next week in Pendle, Oldham, and Blackburn with Darwen, which have all had extra coronavirus measures imposed.
Those who test positive for COVID-19 will receive £130 for their 10-day period of self-isolation.
Other members of their household, who have to self-isolate for 14 days, will be entitled to a payment of £182.
And those who are identified through the NHS Test and Trace programme will also be entitled to a payment of £13 per day – up to a maximum of £182 – tailored to the individual length of their self-isolation period.
The payments will be available to people receiving Universal Credit or Working Tax Credits who cannot work from home and will lose income as a result of having to self-isolate.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News: “It’s important that we support people who we’re asking to self-isolate through the NHS Test and Trace programme.
“The NHS Test and Trace programme is now working well. We set a goal of 80% of the contacts that we found to be contacted to be asked to self-isolate.
“This is all about stopping the transmission of the virus and the latest figures are that it is almost hitting that figure of 80% that we’re aiming for.
“But we have discovered, especially for some of those on low incomes but in work, obviously self-isolating is difficult.
“So this extra payment is about giving people that extra support so that if they’re asked to self-isolate, it will help them afford to do so.”
Payments will be made 48 hours after evidence of having to self-isolate is provided, and the scheme will be quickly assessed to see if it helps slow the transmission of COVID-19 in high-risk areas.
Should it be deemed successful, it will be expanded to other areas where rates of coronavirus infections are high.
Those eligible for the payments will not see any other benefits they receive be reduced.
Asked why the payment would only be available for those on Universal Credit or Working Tax Credits – and not others who might struggle if asked to self-isolate – Mr Hancock replied: “If somebody is working or seeking work then they are eligble to go on Universal Credit.
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“I think that’s a very reasonable way of determining those who are on low incomes to target these payments towards.
“That’s a really important principle of the whole support system we have across the board for people who are either seeking work or in low-paid work, is that you access Universal Credit.”
Labour’s shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, said it was “concerning” the payments would only be for those in a limited number of areas with high rates of coronavirus infections.
“The instruction to self-isolate applies to everyone in the country, so everyone should get the support they need to self-isolate,” she said.
“Labour has been warning for months that the government needs to make sure that people can afford to do the right thing, but once again ministers have taken far too long to realise there’s a problem.”
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said the action “goes nowhere near far enough”, adding: “For many workers in Greater Manchester, this will not provide the support people need to cooperate with NHS Test and Trace.”