Pay when self-isolating: why one standard for the NHS and another for social care?

The NHS says it is essential for safety that workers who need to self-isolate receive full pay, so they are not under financial pressure to work unsafely. Why on earth does this not apply to the care sector, where Covid-19 is running rampant?

NHS employers’ guidelines on staff terms and conditions say “it is essential for infection control purposes that staff members who are told to self-isolate… should receive full pay whilst in self-isolation. This includes bank staff and sub-contractors, who have to be physically present at an NHS facility to carry out their duties.”

NHS England has written to health service chief executives to insist on this. There seems to be a hole in the policy in terms of agency staff, in that no earnings from agency shifts count towards ‘full pay’, and agencies are instead urged to not provide staff who have been advised to self-isolate. And there is always the issue of whether the policy is being implemented on the ground, which requires strong action from trade unions and workers.

Nonetheless the policy is pretty clear. The situation in social care could not be more different.

The GMB and Unison are the two main unions with members among care workers. Research by the GMB last year found that of 795,000 carers working in the private sector, 55pc are not entitled to anything better than Statutory Sick Pay of £95.85 a week. Some of those, nominally self-employed or earning less than £120 a week, will not even get that. Research for the North West region of Unison found that 8 out of 10 care workers do not expect to be paid their wages if they have to self-isolate.

This situation could almost have been designed to prevent proper infection control.

Salford council has taken action to ensure all care workers in its area receive full pay when self-isolating. That is good and other councils should do the same. But the scale of the problem requires national action, by the government.

The Tories have waffled and evaded their responsibility for serious policies to ensure adequate PPE and testing. They have refused to even address the question of sick pay and pay during self-isolation. It is an utter scandal.

The situation in social care is a result of the privatisation of the sector and the driving down of workers’ terms and condition it has produced. That whole framework of social care needs to be changed, with public ownership, proper coordination planning and democratic control. But immediately we need to insist on much stronger workers’ rights, and first of all basic measures to ensure workers’ safety in the face of Covid-19. Proper sick pay should be top of the list.

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