The Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs has backed a new national campaign ‘Time Out to Help Out’ which would see workers continue to be paid their full normal wage if they are requested to self-isolate under the NHS Test and Trace system.

Many of those who are asked to self-isolate and who cannot work from home are faced with the difficult choice of staying at home or continuing to go to work as normal. For many workers, doing the right thing by staying at home will mean a significantly reduced income but going to work could risk spreading Covid-19 to other individuals and their families.

Employees staying at home who can claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) would receive just £95.85 per week, significantly less than the median household income in Tower Hamlets which is £592 per week (2019 data). Self-employed workers are not entitled to SSP, nor are those who earn less than £120 per week. Workers on zero-hours contracts and casual workers also face losing out significantly if they choose to stay at home.

Mayor Biggs is calling on the Government to recognise self-isolation as a civic duty, much like Jury Service, and that those self-isolating should be paid their normal wage with employers claiming the salary back from Government.

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “Employees should not face a financial penalty for doing the right thing by staying at home when they’re told to self-isolate. The Test and Trace system will simply not work if people are forced to choose between going to work or seeing their wages cut, and this makes the fight against Covid-19 much harder.

“Throughout the coronavirus pandemic the council has done everything it can to support residents through tackling poverty initiatives, advising on benefits and supporting access to food, but we need a national policy change if the Government are serious about helping our communities and limiting the spread of the virus.

“Self-isolation is a civic duty and it benefits us all. It’s time for that to be recognised and I urge the Government to introduce the ‘Time Out to Help Out’ proposals.”

Cllr Rachel Blake, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Adults, Health and Wellbeing, said: “NHS Test and Trace is so important to the public health effort and beating Covid, but it relies on people self-isolating when they’re asked to. The pay penalty that many people face by staying at home completely undermines this effort.

“For those who can’t work from home or who are self-employed, being asked to self-isolate means an impossible choice. This has to change or we risk facing an even greater cost later down the line if workers cannot afford to self-isolate. We need to be making it as easy as possible for people to follow the official health advice in order to keep our communities safe.”

Cllr Motin Uz-Zaman, Cabinet Member for Work & Economic Growth, said: “With the furlough scheme coming to an end soon and many employees returning to work, it’s vital that the Government introduces the ‘Time Out to Help Out’ proposals as soon as possible. Workers should not be punished for self-isolating, and Government reimbursing businesses for continuing to pay full wages will benefit everyone.

“I’m also particularly concerned about the self-employed, those on zero-hours contracts and casual workers, who simply do not earn if they take time out. If these workers are forced to continue working it puts the whole fight against Covid-19 at risk.”

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