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What happens to those on low pay if they are quarantined over coronavirus? Robert Peston asks

People with coronavirus symptoms are being asked to self-isolate. Credit: AP

A huge under-discussed problem relating to the Covid19 potential crisis is how to give confidence to those on low pay, especially the significant numbers on zero hours contracts in retail and hospitality, that if they self-quarantine they won’t suffer extreme hardship.

I understand the DWP is looking at this.

But the problem is huge and urgent - because to prevent viral spread it really matters that workers don’t fear they’ll run out of money if they don’t work.

Given that older people are especially at risk from the virus, think about the tragic implications if those working in social care don’t self isolate themselves when they are contagious.

It seems to me there are three big and urgent problems:

  1. Encouraging or even obliging companies to remove the requirement for a doctor’s sick note to access statutory sick pay (something shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth mentioned today).

  2. Making sure universal credit is agile enough to top up the pay of those on zero hours or short term contracts when they cannot work, in an expedited way.

  3. Finding a way to compensate the many students and young people who aren’t on universal credit and lose all income when they don’t work in coffee shops, restaurants and so on.

If the government really wants to contain or delay the spread of coronavirus, then it will have to find proper money to compensate those who do the right thing by not working.

And also compensate businesses that can’t trade because they lack a sufficient number of virus-free staff. It won’t be cheap.