Payment could be made using the existing rules for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). SMP is paid at 90% of a worker’s average wages for six weeks; using the same basis for Statutory Quarantine Pay (SQP) would give low paid workers an automatic right to the money and would encourage more people to self-isolate at a time when this is crucial.
By using the existing SMP system, with a simple eligibility test of a positive COVID-19 test or instruction to self-isolate, SQP could be introduced quickly and as a matter of urgency.
A worker earning minimum wage for 40 hours a week would earn £350 a week based on an hourly rate of £8.72 rate for someone aged 25 or over. If they are sick or have to self-isolate, they will only get Statutory Sick Pay at £95.50 per week.
This means that taking a COVID-19 test, or self-isolating because you have symptoms or have been in contact with someone who is infected, is likely to cost a low paid worker up to £300 over the two-week period – money which most cannot afford. While Universal Credit may be available, it is not going to pay out immediately and is unlikely to meet the full gap.
Furlough is not necessarily available, and even if it is, it is at the employer’s discretion. £500 Test and Trace Support Payments may be available to those on benefits, but evidence suggests these are not reaching many people. The Resolution Foundation suggests that furlough payments should be available for those sick or self-isolating. However, this still won’t ensure that all low paid workers get what they need.
The Government has said that everyone who can work at home should do so. For those who cannot work at home, and who cannot afford to self-isolate, SQP is urgently needed to support low paid individuals and help stop the spread of the virus.