Behind the scenes

Coronavirus: are plans to pay all self-isolating Brits £500 ‘dead on arrival’?

Treasury reportedly ‘flummoxed’ by proposal to give one-off payment to everyone who tests positive for Covid

A newly revealed plan by ministers to pay £500 to everyone in England who tests positive for Covid-19 faces fierce opposition from Treasury officials who have lambasted the “mad idea”, according to government sources.

The Guardian is reporting that the proposed universal payment would form part of a dramatic overhaul of the existing self-isolation support package and is the “preferred position” of Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The planned new system would increase the total cost of self-isolation payments to up to £453m a week - 12 times more than the bill for the current scheme, which applies only to people on low incomes who work from home and receive one of seven means-tested benefits.

But “the proposal could be dead on arrival, seeing as the Treasury had no idea it existed until it appeared in the press”, Politico’s London Playbook reports.

A Treasury source told the news site that the department was “flummoxed” by the suggestion, adding: “First we’ve heard, and frankly a mad idea.”

The payment support scheme is expected to be considered by the government's Covid-19 Operations Committee, chaired by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove.

But given the Treasury’s opposition, Hancock can expect a “fierce cabinet battle” to get his department’s plan approved, says Sky News.

The health secretary came up with the proposal after government polling found that only 17% of people with symptoms are getting tested, “owing to fears that a positive result could stop people from working”, The Guardian reports.

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