Thought leadership

‘Covid is over’ – an experiment for the poor

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As the government announces the end of Covid-19 restrictions in England, can personal responsibility really keep the public safe?

Earlier this week the Prime Minister announced that from Thursday 24th February, the UK’s remaining Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted. While the decision to end restrictions may have very little to do with any form of scientific evidence, and instead serves as an easy way to win back his cabinet and voters after the Downing Street party scandal, the fact that Covid is “over”, (at least from the government perspective), has damning implications for those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

Lottie Moore

Under the new plans, the legal obligation for those with Covid-19 to self-isolate will be removed and testing will no longer be free, with some exceptions. Instead, the government “will encourage people with Covid-19 symptoms to exercise personal responsibility, just as we encourage people who may have flu to be considerate towards others.”

Personal responsibility – a Catch-22

The problem is that operating on the basis of personal responsibility is a luxury that not everyone has. If to exercise one’s personal responsibility means not getting paid, the decision becomes a difficult one. The judgement to end self-isolation support payments will result in potentially thousands of people being forced to rely on the sick pay policies of their own employer, just as before the pandemic.

However, the UK has one of the lowest sick pay rates in Europe. Coupled with the fact that the pandemic is still ongoing – even if the disease no longer poses the threat it once did – it is going to take the nation a period of adjustment before people become comfortable with the idea that the waitress with a sniffle serving them food in a restaurant is potentially carrying Covid-19, even if the government are fine with it.

According to a YouGov poll, 75 per cent of Britons think the restrictions should remain in place, which suggests the public tolerance for people who no longer self-isolate with the disease will be low. Burdening employers with the responsibility to decide whether their staff should be at work with Covid-19 or dolling out sick pay is unfair.

To place the responsibility on the worker to decide between ‘exercising personal responsibility’ and getting paid seems prejudiced, and biased against those of low socioeconomic status – who are much more likely to be on zero-hour contracts and unable to work from home. The additional burden of paying for tests on top of the rising costs of living will only cripple those on lower incomes further.

Health inequality remains one of PPP’s health policy priorities, and this year will see PPP focus on what data and digital can do for underserved populations, especially through the lens of integrated care systems (ICSs).