The people who just can’t afford to self-isolate – tens of thousands of Greater Manchester’s lowest-paid workers rejected from grant scheme
‘I had an email saying: ‘I hope you are feeling better now as at work we are really busy’
- 06:49, 4 FEB 2021
- UPDATED07:48, 4 FEB 2021
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Tens of thousands of the lowest paid people in Greater Manchester have been rejected after applying for financial support to self-isolate due to Covid-19.
So far 22,598 applications for support under the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme have been received by Greater Manchester’s 10 councils.ADVERTISING
In total 13,390 – or 59% – of those applications have been rejected.
Reasons for refusal varied and included no loss of income for self-employed people who were already receiving maximum Universal Credit and applications from those living outside the area.
Stockport refused the highest number of applications – 71 per cent – while Bolton turned down 70 per cent.
But each Greater Manchester council refused at least half of all applications – except Trafford, where just over a third were refused.
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Labour has warned that without “decent” sick pay and support the virus will continue to spread.
Stockport MP Navendu Mishra says the system is “not fit for purpose”.
While Worsley and Eccles South MP Barbara Keeley says too many people are faced with “choosing between losing out financially or breaking public health restrictions”.ADVERTISEMENT
Manchester Council’s leader Sir Richard Leese, has called on the government to look at how it can make the scheme more accessible.
“People cannot be asked to choose between their economic security or their health,” he said.
Meanwhile one cafe worker – who was hospitalised for coronavirus back in October and rejected from the payment scheme – says he could not have afforded to stay off work if it hadn’t been for his partner.
He claims colleagues who have tested positive have continued working because they simply can’t afford to live on statutory sick pay (SSP) – currently £95.85 a week.
John worked until recently for a coffee shop chain in Greater Manchester.https://3cf041601db0197bf60e0f08774b2103.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlDON’T MISSThe coronavirus infection rate has fallen across all ten boroughs of Greater ManchesterGemma Atkinson rants after getting a parking ticket while attending hospital appointmentCocaine-addicted council worker came up with a shifty plan to pay off £5k drug debt – he told Facebook buyers it was ‘fully legit’ … it wasn’t
He tested positive for Covid-19 in October and spent a night in hospital after becoming seriously unwell with the virus.
He applied to his council for the Test and Trace Support Payment but was rejected based on his earnings in the previous year, before his hours were slashed.
“Had I not had the support of my partner I wouldn’t have been able to afford the time off work,” says John – not his real name.
Statutory sick pay (SSP) is currently set at £95.85 a week, but this was not enough to cover John’s usual outgoings.
He says: “The grants available are already hard to get. I applied and was turned down.
“The decision to reject my application was based on what I earned last year.
“So because I am deemed as someone just above the poverty line I didn’t qualify. If I earned a few pounds less I could have got £500.
“There must be an awful lot of people struggling and right on the edge.”
John says he works with two people who tested positive for Covid-19 and couldn’t afford to survive on SSP, so went into work.
“The feeling of guilt is high because you don’t know whether you are making people ill and I know they were really worried about that,” he says.
“I know people have been going into work sick. People are coming in knowing they are ill but they can’t afford not to work.”
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John says as well as the fear of infecting others there is also a moral dilemma linked to letting colleagues down.
He says: “There is also a feeling in hospitality that you don’t want to let your team down.
“I have been working in a small team and the team has recently got significantly smaller over the last year. It’s now half of what it was before – but we’re still busy.
“I was in hospital with Covid. Not for long and I’m okay now. But when I was still feeling unwell, but not infectious, it was made clear to me that the team was under pressure. This is mentioned repeatedly to people.
“I had an email saying: ‘I hope you are feeling better now as at work we are really busy’.
“In hospitality if someone is ill there’s talk about them skiving off and people will moan about it.”
He adds: “The pressure is on to come into work because also there is the very serious risk that your company will close and you will be made redundant, so you need to come in to keep it going.”
John says he believes the government’s response to supporting the lowest paid workers has “not been great” and says those working in hospitality have been put at risk.
“It makes you feel really low because you are acutely aware that when you work in a coffee shop a lot of people don’t regard you in any way,” he says.
“The response from the government has not been great. Last summer it was like ‘you have to go into work’ – that’s what it felt like for people in the hospitality industry.
“When they started Eat Out To Help Out people were calling it Eat Out to Get Sick.”
The government’s Test and Trace Support Payments, administered by councils, provides a one-off payment of £500 to people on low incomes if they are required to self-isolate, but cannot afford to do so.
Introduced back in September it applies to those on a low income who cannot work from home and receive one of seven means-tested benefits.
A second, more flexible discretionary scheme is also available incorporating parameters set by the government and the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA).
The payment scheme is an important cog in the government’s strategy to curb Covid-19 as the virus will continue to spread if people fail to self-isolate.
Baroness Harding, the head of NHS Test and Trace, says research has shown that between 40% and 20% of people contacted by the programme are not fully self-isolating after being instructed to do so.
Based on the rates of people contacted on a daily basis, an optimistic estimate suggests that 20,000 are not fully following self isolation instructions, MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee heard on Wednesday (February 3).
Baroness Harding said there could be multiple reasons behind people ignoring the rules, including people feeling they could not afford it.
Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the data “confirms our repeated warnings that without decent sick pay and support we won’t break chains of transmission”.
“With worrying identification of the South African variant in the community and the E484K mutation in the infectious Kent variant it’s now more urgent than ever that this hole in our defences is fixed,” he said.
Nationally, around 70 percent of those applying for financial support to self-isolate have been rejected, according to the TUC.
The union body has warned that demand for self-isolation payments is significantly outstripping the available funding.
Some councils had to close discretionary schemes due to a lack of funding and more than one in four councils ran out of, or were close to running out of funding, according to TUC analysis of 175 local authorities.
The union has warned that lack of decent sick pay is a “gaping hole” in the UK’s public health approach to coronavirus.
The government recently announced an additional £20m for the self-isolation scheme, including £10m for the discretionary scheme.
But the TUC says this is “too little too late” as it would not be enough to satisfy demand.
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TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “No one should be forced to choose between doing the right thing and being plunged into hardship.
“The current system of patchy self-isolation payments and paltry sick pay just isn’t working.
“Too many low-paid workers are going without the financial support they need to self-isolate – this is a gaping hole in the UK’s public health approach.
“The government could fix the problem tomorrow by offering decent sick pay to those required to self-isolate.
“Ministers must stop sitting on their hands and raise statutory sick pay to at least the real Living Wage. And they must ensure that everyone has access to it.”
The figures in Greater Manchester
Here, 71 per cent of applications for a one-off Test and Trace Support Payment have been rejected.
Stockport Council received 1,545 between September 28 and January 28.
Of those 303 were accepted under the main government scheme and 28 via the council’s discretionary scheme.
1,102 were rejected.
Stockport Council said the number of rejections relate to individuals “not able to evidence how they meet the eligibility criteria for a support payment under each scheme”.
“The non-discretionary scheme eligibility criteria is set by Government,” they said.
“The discretionary scheme eligibility is set by the Council to ensure the fixed Government funding allocation for the scheme is used to support those residents in most need of support – those residents who will suffer financial hardship as a result of income loss due to the requirement to self-isolate.”
Here 56 per cent of applications have been rejected.
Tameside Council said 505 people have been paid under the statutory scheme at a cost of £252,000. A total of 149 applications were declined.
A further 71 people were paid under the council’s discretionary scheme at a cost of £35,500, while 593 were refused.
There were 1,318 applications in total and 742 rejected.
A further 24 applications have not yet been processed and are awaiting a decision.
Here 62 per cent of applications have been rejected.
Salford City Council had 2,801 applications of which 302 were approved for a support payment.
A further 52 were approved for discretionary payments.
However 1,752 were declined from both schemes.
The council say most of the rejected applications were because applicants failed to supply supporting evidence to show they met the criteria.
Salford Council said: “We’ve paid 59% of our allocation of government funding assessed against the national criteria; those who are unsuccessful automatically go into the discretionary scheme.”
In Manchester, 61 per cent of applications have been rejected.
As of February 1 Manchester City Council had received 5,184 eligible applications.
Of those, 1,311 were accepted under the core scheme at a cost of £655,500.
While a further 330 applicants were paid under the discretionary scheme at a cost of £165,000.
In total 3,202 applications were declined – 1,317 from the main scheme and 1,885 from the discretionary scheme.
A further 218 cases are pending awaiting further information requested from the applicant.
The council says 79 per cent of applicants were paid within three days.
They said a “general lack of awareness of the scheme’s criteria” has led to confusion when an approach has been made.
Reasons for refusal varied and included no loss of income for self-employed people who were already receiving maximum Universal Credit, applicants living outside the area, further information required and people applying before the September 28 start date.
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Here 62 per cent of applications have been rejected.
Wigan Council said 2,011 people have applied for the scheme.
Of those 1,258 were ‘not eligible’.
A total of 521 were paid under the main scheme and 134 were successful under the discretionary scheme.
The council says the strict government criteria has led to a high number of non-eligible applications.
Wigan Council has a wider welfare offer providing wraparound support to those residents who need it.
“We will help residents via this offer as an alternative to the grant, if more appropriate,” they said.
Here 59 per cent of applications have been rejected.
Rochdale Council has received 2,635 applications for support.
Of those, a total of 1,558 have been refused.
There were 948 paid under the main scheme and 129 paid under the discretionary scheme.
Here 51 per cent of applications have been rejected.
As of January 29, Oldham Council had received 2,672 applications for support.
A total of 888 people have been paid – 808 through the main scheme and 19 through the discretionary scheme.
But 1,369 applications had been rejected – 691 through the national scheme and 616 through the discretionary scheme.
Among the 2,672 applications were 117 duplicate applications, 142 awaiting further information, 119 being reviewed and two pending approval for payment.
While 35 people had been invited to apply for the discretionary fund.
Here exactly 50 per cent of all applications have been rejected.
Bury Council has so far received 1,285 claims, of which 648 were refused.
The council has paid 346 people, including 23 through the discretionary fund.
The remaining 291 applications are being processed or awaiting further information from the applicant, the council said.
Here 38 per cent of applications have been rejected.
In total Trafford Council processed 880 applications for payments.
There have been 349 people paid under the main government scheme and 92 paid under the discretionary scheme.
164 applications were rejected as ineligible under the government scheme and 171 under the discretionary scheme.
The council says it is still in correspondence with 104 people about their applications.
In Bolton 70 per cent of applications have been rejected.
Bolton Council said it has received 2,267 applications for support so far.
Of those, 655 applications have been successful at a cost of £327,500 under the government scheme.
While 17 discretionary payments were made to date based on a GM-agreed criteria.
In total 1,595 applications were rejected.
What the Department of Health and Social Care says
The M.E.N asked the Department to respond to the Greater Manchester regional figures.
A spokesperson responded to the TUC’s analysis of English councils allocation of the funds.
They said: “These numbers paint an incomplete picture and account for only 171 of the 314 local authorities who run the scheme.
“Since the outset the Government has covered the cost of administering the scheme and has provided local authorities with more funding to make discretionary payments to anyone outside the scope of the scheme who is facing financial hardship because of self-isolation.
“This is a targeted scheme to help people on low incomes who cannot work from home, and we are continuing to work closely with local authorities in England to monitor the effectiveness of the scheme.”
What regional leaders say
Navendu Mishra is a Labour MP in Stockport, where 71 per cent of applications to the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme have been rejected so far.
He says: “The fact that so many cases were rejected in Stockport and across Greater Manchester demonstrates that the system is not fit for purpose.
“At a time when so many people are struggling to make ends meet in the middle of the UK’s worst recession in 300 years, the Government needs to be encouraging them to do the right thing, not making an already challenging situation even tougher due to inaccessible funding.
“It is simply not good enough that people are missing out because they either don’t meet the Government’s eligibility criteria or because of a complicated application process.
“Since this pandemic started I have repeatedly called on the Government to do more to help those who cannot work because they are following advice to stay at home if they have Covid, are self-isolating, shielding a family member, or caring for a loved one.”
Worsley and Eccles South MP Barbara Keeley – who has been successful in advocating for constituents to get payments for them – has raised the issue in Parliament.
When she first raised Test and Trace Support Payments with Salford Council back in December, the authority provided figures showing four out of five people were being turned down.
The council has received 2,801 applications so far with 302 approved, a further 52 approved for discretionary payments and 1,752 declined.
Mrs Keeley says it is “unacceptable” that so many people applying for financial support to help them self-isolate have been turned down.
“While Ministers like to say they have done everything they could, this is one area where they can act to help slow the spread of the virus,” she says.
“The only way we will beat this virus is if we break chains of transmission by ensuring that all positive cases and their close contacts self-isolate fully. For too many people, this currently means choosing between losing out financially or breaking public health restrictions.
“Rather than continuing to hide behind the current inadequate provision, the Government should implement a comprehensive scheme to ensure that nobody is left worse off for doing the right thing and self-isolating when they are asked to.”
Manchester City Council leader, Sir Richard Leese, says the authority hopes to open up the discretionary fund further.
He says: “For months the argument has been made at a local and a national level that in order for Test and Trace to be effective, it must be feasible for people to be able to isolate.
“For many people on low incomes the need to self-isolate would mean the loss of wages in the best of cases, or a loss of their job in the worst. People cannot be asked to choose between their economic security or their health.https://get-latest.convrse.media/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.manchestereveningnews.co.uk%2Fnews%2Fgreater-manchester-news%2Fpeople-covid-who-cant-afford-19763946%3Futm_source%3Dmen_newsletter%26utm_campaign%3Ddaily_newsletter2%26utm_medium%3Demail&cre=bottom&cip=176&view=web
“We have worked with our partners across Greater Manchester to put in place a more accessible discretionary fund to support, but it is important that the government looks at how it can make its own scheme more accessible to people.
“The Council will continue to assess the strength of the discretionary fund, with a view to opening it up further so that more people can access the support they need.”
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