Anyone in England who tests positive for coronavirus could be paid £500 to encourage them to self-isolate, it has been reported.
Government polling has that only 17% of people are getting tested over fears that if the results come back positive, it could stop them from working, The Guardian reports.
An official policy paper, which The Guardian reports it has seen, states that the universal payment is the "preferred position" of Matt Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and would cost up to £453m a week.
The report says: "Wanting to avoid self-isolation is now the single biggest reported barrier to requesting a test."
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Currently, people told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS COVID-19 app may be entitled to a payment of £500 from their local authority through the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme, provided applicants meet certain criteria.
But the new report proposes four options to expand the programme:
- Paying anyone who tests positive for coronavirus £500
- Paying the lump sum to those who test positive and cannot work from home
- Paying those earning less than £26,495 a year or on means-tested benefits
- Or keeping the current system but “significantly” expanding the discretionary funding to councils
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The policy paper says "a more radical approach" would be paying people their usual earnings instead of a £500 lump sum.
But there would be difficulty in this approach in terms of assessing earnings of those on zero-hours contracts, agency workers and the self-employed and therefore that option is not recommended.
The 16-page document is also said to propose giving police access to health data for the first time to crack down on quarantine breaches.
"Contrary to previous assurances given to the public, this will mean sharing health data (ie an indication of who has tested positive for Covid-19) with the police if someone is reported to have breached their legal duty, but this is considered a necessary and proportionate measure – and data-sharing agreements will provide that the information is not used for any other purposes," the report adds.
A DHSC spokesperson said they would not comment on leaks, but added: "We are in one of the toughest moments of this pandemic and it is incumbent on all of us to help protect the NHS by staying at home and following the rules.
"All local authorities costs for administering the test-and-trace support payment scheme are covered by the government, and each authority is empowered to make discretionary payments outside of the scheme.
"£50m was invested when the scheme launched, and we are providing a further £20m to help support people on low incomes who need to self-isolate.
"We also recognise the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health and wellbeing which is why mental health services have remained open throughout the pandemic."
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