Introduce quarantine pay to help prevent virus spread, says tax firm

The government should introduce Statutory Quarantine Pay (SQP) so that low-paid workers have an automatic right to money to support them in sickness or when they have to self-isolate, a tax and advisory firm has said.

Such pay could be made using existing rules for Statutory Maternity Pay, suggests Heather Self, a partner at Blick Rothenberg. SMP is paid at 90% of a worker’s average wages for six weeks.

This “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”, Self says.

She goes on to suggest that by using the existing SMP system, an eligibility test of a positive Covid 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, Self says.

Under the current system, this means that a worker who has a positive test or must self-isolate faces losing a low-paid worker up to £300 over the two-week period. “While Universal Credit may be available, it is not going to pay out immediately and is unlikely to meet the full gap,” Self explains.

“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.”

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