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Self-isolation payments held down to deter ‘gaming’ of system, Matt Hancock reveals

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People told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace were not offered financial support matching their lost salaries because of the government’s fear that the system would be “gamed”, Matt Hancock has said.

The revelation was branded “absolutely disgusting” by Labour, who said the government had put people’s lives at risk by making it financially difficult for them to stay away from work after potentially coming into contact with coronavirus.

Critics have blamed stingy support for undermining the impact of test and trace, with surveys suggesting that 80 per cent or more of those identified as contacts of Covid-19 sufferers ignoring orders to stay home.

A one-off payment of just £500 has been offered to people on low incomes who are told to self-isolate for 10 days after being identified as contacts.

And Mr Hancock today told a joint inquiry by the House of Commons health and science committees that the payments were not set at a more generous level or made universal because of fears that the system would be abused.

Asked by health committee chair Jeremy Hunt why people were assured they would not lose out financially if they forfeited salary due to self-isolation, Mr Hancock replied: “The challenge that we had with that proposal is the extent to which it might be gamed.

“Because after all, a contact gives test and trace their contacts. You wouldn’t want a situation where if you tested positive you could then enlist your entire friendship network to get a £500 payment.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said that the refusal to offer more generous financial support contrasted strongly with the government’s award of lucrative coronavirus contracts to businesses with links to the Conservative party.

And she highlighted Mr Hancock’s shareholding in a firm owned by his sister which won an NHS contract, which led to him being judged by No 10 ethics adviser Lord Geidt to have breached the ministerial code of conduct.

Ms Rayner said: “Today Matt Hancock said the government didn’t support people to isolate because the system would be ‘gamed’. Truly disgusting.

“The only person gaming the system is Matt Hancock, who broke the ministerial code and gave a contract to his sister’s company that he owns 20 per cent of.

“Of course Matt Hancock is an expert at ‘gaming the system’ after giving a contract to his pub landlord and giving £2 billion in contracts to Conservative donors and mates.

“Matt Hancock’s contempt for the working people whose lives he put at risk is absolutely disgusting.”

During today’s evidence session, Mr Hancock denied playing any role in awarding coronavirus contracts, but confirmed that he had passed on requests from contacts to supply the government with Covid-19 kit, telling MPs: “When people came forward with potential leads, I would feed those into officials. Absolutely.”

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