London (Brussels Morning) Twelve UK public health bodies have signed a letter to the Prime Minister declaring that the government must provide more financial protection without which could render infection control measure ineffective.
Signatories included the British Medical Association, Association of Directors of Public Health, Faculty of Public Health, Scottish Academy of Royal Colleges, Doctors Association UK and Medact, among others.
The public health organisations called for more financial support for people on low incomes to ensure compliance with new health control measures make the regional approach at controlling the virus work.
They say that those on smaller salaries and in precarious employment conditions cannot afford to take time off work and self isolate with the current assistance package. If more of those who can not work remotely go to work, it could undermine the effectiveness of the current infection control measures in place.
The government has introduced a tiered system in the UK. Those living in areas with more cases and higher infection rates will be subject to more restrictive measures, including the closure of non-essential businesses, pubs and restaurants.
The groups said the government had taken some welcome steps, including the removal of qualifying periods for Statutory Sick Pay and providing 500 pounds for eligible low-income households to self-isolate. They added, however, the Winter Spending Review delivered by finance minister Rishi Sunak missed an opportunity to further decrease barriers for people to self-isolate when necessary, denouncing its prioritisation of a 16.5 billion pound defence budget over increasing the minimum wage or extending the temporary uplift of Universal Credit — a state-paid welfare programme.
“Unless we ensure everyone can afford to self isolate, people’s better judgement to follow public health guidance will continue to be undermined because of the lack of adequate sick pay and income insecurity”, said Siddhartha Mehta, Campaign and Programme Lead for Economic Justice at Medact.
Among the recommendations proposed to the government were to extend the job support scheme that would pay workers 80% of the income they would earn; amend a policy of ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ for migrants; and introducing special Statutory Sick Pay for those who have COVID19 symptoms.
Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, President of the Doctors’ Association UK said:
“The pandemic has unmasked health inequalities across the UK that doctors have been aware of for some time. A coordinated and effective response to COVID must include addressing these as a matter of urgency. A key example is the impact of not providing full sick pay, or remuneration to the self-employed, who have told us they feel they have no option but to remain at work instead of self-isolating”.