by LAUREN CODLING
THE mayor of Newham has criticised the government’s plan to pay people £13 a day to self-isolate, claiming the money offered is “insufficient”.
The comments come after weeks of criticism regarding the NHS Test and Trace programme, a key part of the government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy since the initial outbreak in March. Any individuals who have symptoms are being asked to self-isolate at home for 14 days, along with anyone else they have been in close contact with.
However, some have argued that the plan will fail as low-paid workers will not want to isolate for two weeks and potentially lose pay. In response, health secretary Matt Hancock recently unveiled plans to pay £13 per day to people on low income to self-isolate, in areas which are known to be coronavirus hotspots.
However, Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz argued that the money being offered was “insufficient” and expressed concern about the government strategy. “Along with leaders from Camden and Hackney, I have signed a joint letter to the chancellor (Rishi Sunak) calling on him to increase the amount of money received for those individuals
that are being required to isolate,” she told Eastern Eye last Thursday (3). “In a place like Newham, job security is important as is ensuring the consistent receiving of income for household costs. It is really concerning.”
Although Newham is not known as a Covid-19 hotspot, and therefore residents will not receive money if they need to isolate, the east London borough is currently one of two locations in the country where the NHS Test and Trace app is being piloted.
After it was launched on August 21, more than 300,000 Newham residents received a letter, text message or email encouraging them to download it. Local businesses have also been urged to download and display unique QR check-in posters, to help halt the spread of Covid-19.
However, Fiaz said she was aware that some individuals may not wish to engage with the app in fear of losing pay if they are required to self-isolate. As the government will only pay £13 for residents in Covid-19 hotspots areas, Fiaz emphasised not wanting Newham to be in that position before residents feel financially secure.
“We don’t want to wait until we have a local outbreak hotspot scenario before (the government plan) kicks in,” the Labour politician said. “We should have the incentive, and that financial comfort for those areas particularly in Newham, where we have a high population of ethnic minorities and could have issues of poverty and inequality leading to a disproportionate impact.”
Fiaz was also keen to rid what she said was the stigma of testing, which she believed could make individuals reluctant to pursue it. According to her, communities across London are fearful of testing “because people don’t want to know (they have Covid-19)”.
“It’s a similar sort of behaviour that characterises some sexually transmitted disease types, where public health teams have had to really diminish the stigma associated and to provide that reassurance,” she explained. “There’s a really important additional area of work that we’ve still got to do.”
Asked if any specific concerns regarding the app had been raised by ethnic minority communities, Fiaz said there was some apprehension relating to data protection and privacy. “Once people are talked through the features of the technology that protects that privacy, they feel [their fears have been] alleviated,” she said, noting the council has been proactively requesting feedback from residents.
Fiaz said she was keen for Newham to be part of the trial so the borough could contribute “important insights” to the government and the NHS prior to the nationwide launch of the app. “We decided to early adopt the app so that we can assess it on behalf of the rest of London and the country, and provide valuable feedback so that it’s the best it can be before it is rolled out across the nation,” she explained. “If we show the app works here, then it will work anywhere, and that’s important for the safety of all Londoners as well as the capital’s economy.”
Last Thursday, Fiaz and London mayor Sadiq Khan promoted the app during a visit to Newham’s walk-in coronavirus test centre in East Ham. The app is available in languages including Urdu, Punjabi, Bangla and Gujarati. Officials have said more languages are due to be added.