More than 1,000 people in Bedford received financial support to self-isolate while coronavirus rules were in place, figures show.
From October 2020, people on low incomes could apply for a one-off £500 grant if they were required to self-isolate and could not work from home.
However, the Test and Trace support payment initiative ended last week (February 24), when the legal requirement for people who test positive for Covid to self-isolate was also scrapped.
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The Trades Union Congress branded the scheme “hopeless” as it claimed few were aware of its benefits, and added the decision to close it will force workers to take responsibility without adequate sick pay.
In Bedford, there were 1,402 successful claims for Test and Trace support payments up to February 16, figures from the UK Health Security Agency show.
Of these, 1,146 were handed out through the main government scheme, aimed at those who will lose income as a result of working from home and who are in receipt of certain benefits, including Universal Credit and housing benefit.
A further 256 were discretionary payments by the council, given to those on low incomes who did not meet the criteria for the main scheme.
It meant there were roughly 105 successful applications per 10,000 adults in Bedford – in line with the national average of 116, when using the latest population estimates from the Office for National Statistics.
A total of £700,000 was paid to support people self-isolating in Bedford over a 17-month period.
A person could claim the payment more than once if they had to isolate on multiple occasions.
Across England, there were more than 500,000 successful claims – 292,000 through the main scheme, with a further 223,000 discretionary payments.
The decision to scrap the payments and return to pre-Covid sick pay rules – where it is paid from the fourth day of sickness rather than the first – has been criticised by the British Medical Association.
Chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “The removal of self-isolation payments, and then access to statutory sick pay in a months’ time, is incredibly concerning, as it will mean people cannot afford to stay at home if they are unwell.”
Dr Nagpaul added the Living with Covid plan, unveiled by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week, will create a “two-tier system” between those who can and cannot afford lateral flow tests from April 1 – threatening to exacerbate health inequalities exposed by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, argued the lack of adequate sick pay undermines workers’ ability to take responsibility.
She said: “The Government should now look at urgently fixing sick pay by making it equivalent to the real living wage and available to all workers from day one of sickness."
A Government spokesperson said temporary changes to statutory sick pay, and the Test and Trace support scheme, were to “to help people experiencing financial hardship if they were self-isolating”.
“We have worked closely with all 309 local authorities in England to ensure residents have been made aware of the support available to them,” they added.