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MP says testing strategy will fail unless financial barriers are lifted

Local Liverpool Walton MP has criticised the scale and scope of support available for people told to self-isolate, as 80% of applications for the Government’s self-isolation support grants in Liverpool are refused.

Dan Carden said, “People want to do the right thing by getting tested, but there’s also real anxiety among those on the lowest incomes, in insecure work and struggling to get by.


“Unless the financial barriers to self-isolation are lifted, any testing strategy is doomed to failure.


“The Government’s criteria for the £500 self-isolation support grant is so strict that 80% of applicants for the mandatory scheme in Liverpool are refused. Statutory Sick Pay isn’t enough to pay the bills, never mind live on, and too many people miss out.


“It’s wrong that people are being forced to make impossible choices between doing the right thing or putting food on the table.”


Speaking about rising levels of poverty in his Liverpool Walton constituency, Carden said:


“Even before the pandemic, Liverpool was a city on the brink. The double whammy of a decade of cuts and now coronavirus is tipping people over the edge.


“Britain’s social security system is broken. For years now Universal Credit has been driving up poverty and food bank use across the city.


“We face the very real risk of being dragged back to levels of poverty and destitution not seen since the 1980s.


“The disconnect between what ministers say in Parliament and the reality on the ground is breath-taking.


“People are being left with nothing. Everyone needs an income – to pay their bills, feed their family and heat their homes.



“We urgently need to strengthen our social safety net and we need action on soaring personal and household debt, including rent arrears.”


Continuing to raise concerns regarding the financial difficulties when self-isolating, on Friday 27 November 2020 in a meeting of the Independent SAGE panel, MP Carden asked the group of scientists what lessons the Government should learn from the mass COVID-19 testing pilot in Liverpool.


While the pilot has been considered successful in driving down rates of transmission, it was revealed that take-up was as low as 4% in the most disadvantaged parts of the city.


Prof Martin McKee praised the work of the local team in Liverpool implementing the pilot and their approach of “working with communities to find ways in which these tests can be used most effectively.”


“They are seeing it very much as an evaluation from which we need to learn lessons,” he said, adding “the worry we have is that the Government will not wait for the results of their evaluations.”


Dr Zubaida Haque said that the low take-up among poorer communities was “extremely concerning” and criticised the “wholly inadequate” level of financial support for those who need to self-isolate.


“Mass roll-out of testing can only happen if people are comfortable with self-isolating and they will only do that if they are supported.”


MP Carden told the panel that 80% of applicants to the mandatory self-isolation support grant scheme in Liverpool are rejected because the Government’s criteria is so strict.


There is also a discretionary element to the scheme, but funding is limited. In Liverpool, more than two-thirds of it has already been spent and the Government has not confirmed any further funding. Carden said that funding for discretionary payments is set to run out before Christmas.


Anthony Costello, former Director for Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health at the WHO, said that the 80% refusal rate for the mandatory element of the self-isolation support grant “is an appalling figure” that “blows a cart and horses through the entire system.”