Today Munira has written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock MP, urging him to provide better support so people are able to self-isolate if they have to. The Health Secretary is self-isolating himself until Sunday.
The current rules surrounding self-isolation do not encourage individuals to stay isolated. Wages are not subsidised in full, dependants are not considered, and situations of domestic abuse can make self-isolation dangerous for some individuals.
The text of the letter below:
I hope you are well and your recent self-isolation is only precautionary. As you are aware self-isolation can be inconvenient and difficult, particularly for those with families and dependants.
I am writing to highlight the need for a proper self-isolation system in the UK. An effective self-isolation system has been pivotal to many countries’ success in tackling the virus and I urge you and the Government to follow their lead.
Controlling the spread of the virus is central to being able to lift restrictions as early as possible. Although the successful rollout of the vaccine is good news, it will not be enough to stop the spread of the virus alone. Excess deaths, hospitalisations and the debilitating effects of Long Covid can only be prevented through a robust system to test, trace and isolate every case of the virus to curb its spread. Self-isolation is central to this.
Although the vast majority of people follow the coronavirus restrictions, several surveys show that many do not self-isolate when required to. A recent study by UCL shows only 62% of people are self-isolating when developing symptoms. SAGE suggests that at least 80% of those in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 would have to isolate to control the spread of the virus. This is a stark gap.
It is, however, clear why this gap exists. The willingness to self-isolate is there but the support and resources are not. Although the Government has made £500 pounds available to those self-isolating, it is hard to access and, for many working families, it is simply not enough. Many have had to make the decision between doing their bit by self-isolating or putting food on the table. Others living in over-crowded housing do not have the space to self-isolate. Some with caring responsibilities simply cannot. The Government should make this an easy decision by ensuring everyone is given enough support and the resources to easily self-isolate.
I would like to propose several actions the Government can take to fix the UK’s self-isolation system and ensure everyone can self-isolate when asked to:
5 Steps to Fixing the UK’s Self-Isolation System
1. Guarantee Full Salary – One of the biggest reasons for not self-isolating when required is that many cannot afford to. The Government must pay isolating people’s full salary to ensure that no one is forced to come out of isolation for lack of money. A bonus should also be paid to those who isolate for the full period required, to incentivise full compliance. This includes guaranteeing a minimum income so that, everyone, including informal workers and those on zero-hour contracts, can self-isolate and help prevent the spread of the virus.
2. Support for Dependants – It is crucial that those who have childcare or caring responsibilities are given the support they need whilst self-isolating so that people are not forced to come out of isolation to care for their loved ones. Local authorities should be given the necessary funding to make this happen.
3. ‘Anti-Pandemic Hotels’ – Provide Hotel Rooms for Self-Isolation – The UK currently has thousands of empty hotel rooms across the country, which could easily be made available to those who cannot effectively self-isolate at home. Much as New Zealand and Australia use hotels as self-isolation accommodation for those entering the country, the UK Government should provide them free of charge to those who are self-isolating, along with Covid-19 secure transport to get them there. This could greatly reduce the risk of spreading the virus through a whole family.
4. Domestic assistance and Well-Being Support – Although many supermarkets and volunteer groups have done great work getting food and medicines to those self-isolating and shielding, they can only do so much. The Government should put in place and fund local public health teams to check in daily on those isolating to ensure they have everything they need to continue their isolation. Taiwan, which pioneered this method, has an isolation compliance of over 99%.
5. Clear Communication – It is essential that the Government clearly communicates what assistance is available to those self-isolating so that people are empowered to do their bit.
Everyone wants to play their part in ending this pandemic. Slowing the spread of this terrible disease is everyone’s priority. The Government now needs to give those who are struggling the means to do so. I sincerely hope you will implement this plan in full. I would be delighted to discuss it with you further.
Munira Wilson MP