Ministers have been accused of suppressing access to higher levels of sick pay for those who isolated themselves with Covid during the third wave.
In a move that critics have called “disgusting” and have said it may have cost lives, the Treasury reportedly rejected attempts by some government workers to raise awareness about how employers could guarantee higher wages for their isolated staff under the statutory sick leave scheme rather than claim pay. The former guarantees employees 80% of their salary up to £ 2,500 each month, while the latter is capped at £ 96.35 per week.
Downing Street has not denied the report.
According to Politico, a series of leaked emails between officials sent during the first two months of 2021 show concerns were expressed that the Treasury was “reluctant” to explicitly explain to companies that the potentially much more generous licensing plan could be used to temporarily cover self-isolation.
“This is a real problem that is being solved,” said one official, adding that “the incentive payments are too low to incentivize employees to take the tests due to the risk of lost income.”
The disclosure will increase pressure on the government to increase financial support offered to self-isolating individuals, so that more people are encouraged to stay home if they have tested positive for Covid or become they have traced the contact. Last month, The Guardian also revealed concerns raised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that legal disease package levels could deter some staff members from getting vaccinated, should they have to take time off from work. to recover from side effects.
On Thursday, Boris Johnson’s spokesman did not question the reported actions of Treasury officials, though he emphasized that the leave scheme “is not designed for brief absences from work due to illness.”
He added that “self-isolation should not be a consideration when deciding whether a company should lay off an employee” and pointed to the one-time payment of £ 500 for those with low incomes who are forced to isolate themselves.
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was “really concerned” about development. He said: “Self-isolation is a huge tool in the arsenal when it comes to defeating the pandemic, but too many people felt that they could not afford to isolate themselves,” he told reporters.
“We’ve been saying this for a year or more, so the idea now that this has been suppressed I think is so wrong in terms of how we fight this pandemic.”
Joe Clarke, a national official for the Unite union, said: “This revelation is absolutely disgusting and shows that the government acted recklessly with the safety of the workers.
“The government cynically suppressed this information from companies at a time when more than 1,000 people a day were dying from Covid.”
“This decision will have cost lives, caused an increase in infections and has meant that successive closures have lasted longer than necessary, further damaging the economy.”
Dr Philippa Whitford, Westminster Health Spokesperson for the Scottish National Party, also called the move “utter insane” and warned that it will have “increased the spread of the virus and put lives at risk”.
He called on ministers to apologize and said: “The Conservative government has spent months forcing workers to struggle amid the greatest public health and economic crisis we have ever seen.”
The Treasury said that guidance on license access had always been clear.
A spokesperson said: “It has always been clear that the purpose of the licensing plan is to support jobs; We have been sincere about it from the beginning.
“The guide states that the plan is not designed for brief absences from work due to illness or self-isolation.
“We have a specific support package for those who are self-isolating due to the coronavirus, which includes one-time payments of £ 500 for those with low incomes.
“If an employer wants to fire an employee for business reasons and they are currently ill, then they are eligible to do so just like other employees. This has been established in orientation since April of last year. “