Labour-run Yorkshire council leaders back calls for support for low-income workers asked to self-isolate by contact tracers

The leaders of seven of Yorkshire’s councils have written to the Government asking for support for those in low-income jobs who may have to self isolate if they have been in contact with someone with coronavirus.

Thursday, 13th August 2020, 5:45 am

The leaders of the the local authorities, which are all Labour-run, welcomed the move this week to move to a “hybrid system” where NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England will extend their partnership with local authorities in order to reach more people testing positive and their contacts to stop the spread of Covid-19.

But they called for further measures to support their most at-risk residents and help for care homes.

Leaders from Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Rotherham, Sheffield and Wakefield councils have written to Health Secretary Matt Hanaock and Dido Harding, Chair of the NHS Test and Trace Programme, explaining the nature of the challenges that exist in their districts.

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Samples are taken at a coronavirus testing facility in Temple Green Park and Ride, Leeds,in May as NHS Test and Trace was rolled out across England. Photo: PA

During a visit to Yorkshire yesterday Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Some of those councils that are under restrictions are saying to me they’ve had to build their own test and trace system from scratch on the ground.”

The letter asked for extra support for low-income households during local outbreaks to reduce the risk of low paid and zero-hours contract workers being reluctant to get a test.

They said for some there is a fear of having to stay at home for 14 days without pay if they test positive for the virus, echoing fears raised by Greater Manchester mayor ANdy Burnham and Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram

Baroness Dido Harding, the executive chair of NHS Test and Trace, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service this week that people should be accessing benefits to fill the gap in their income in those circumstances.

But she would not confirm whether there was a package of funding that was being ring fenced nationally to support people who self-isolate.

While the Treasury said the government was committed to supporting individuals financially and that more than £9bn had been invested in strengthening the welfare safety net.

The letter also called for additional funding for care homes, many of which are under occupied due to Covid-19 and may not survive long enough to act as a safety net for the NHS in the event of a second spike or the onset of severe winter pressures.

They added the high rates that exist in many parts of Yorkshire mean that new targeted local measures are needed which exceed the national grant already given by Government.

Tim Swift, Leader of Calderdale Council, said: “Unfortunately we’re seeing a worrying increase in Covid-19 infection rates in Calderdale since national lockdown restrictions were eased. We know that local action is vital to control the virus, and that our communities are great at working together to protect each other – we did it before and kept our infection rates low throughout lockdown.

“So it’s essential that we step up our united local activity to keep people safe and avoid a full lockdown. But this time of serious risk and national intervention needs national support. The Government’s move towards more local testing and tracing is a welcome step, but we need extra funds to sustain this and other targeted action.”

Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford District Council, added: “We very much welcome the Government’s announcement on extending test and trace. It’s a vital tool and we need the extra investment to make it happen. Local authorities are best placed to understand and work with the needs of their local communities. The only way we’re going to beat this virus is by further strengthening our local activity.”

Shabir Pandor, Leader of Kirklees Council, said: “A key part of our approach is to increase the amount of people being tested and to follow up all positive cases with a successful Test and Trace programme. We need more financial support to trace contacts at a more localised level so we can protect residents the best we can.

“This will inevitably mean more people either testing positive or being required to self-isolate. This will have an adverse impact on their household incomes and I would ask the Government to help us out.”

Last month councils got an extra £500m to deal with the coronavirus crisis and help to cover lost income during the pandemic.

Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick said the funding, which is not ring-fenced, would bring Covid-19 support to local authorities to £4.3bn.

Mr Jenrick said the moves will help reimburse local authorities for lost income and allow council and business rates tax deficits to be repaid over three years instead of one.

He said: “Councils are playing a huge part in supporting their communities during this pandemic.

“From supporting the most vulnerable and keeping vital services running to operating local track and trace, council workers have been at the forefront of this great national effort and are the unsung heroes of this pandemic.

“Today I am providing a further package of support that takes our support for councils during this pandemic to £4.3bn to help meet the immediate pressures councils are facing.

“I know that the loss of revenue from car parks and leisure centres has created huge difficulties, so I am introducing a new scheme to help cover these losses.”