Council leader under fire over Covid self-isolation payment remarks
- Credit: Rose Sapey
A Norfolk council leader has come in for criticism after he suggested £500 self-isolation payments could be an "incentive" for people to catch coronavirus.
But John Fuller, OBE, Conservative leader of South Norfolk Council, said remarks he made during a debate on Thursday's BBC's Newsnight programme were about New York's approach to payments and that he was in favour of the way they were made in the UK.
Payments of £500 are available to eligible people told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace and Mr Fuller told Thursday night's programme how more than 4,000 people in Norfolk had been helped to stay at home by local councils.
Mr Fuller said not everybody was eligible for the payments, such as if they had savings or could work from home.
But presenter Kirsty Wark said 70pc of payments were rejected, while a scheme in New York awarded money on the presumption people were not cheating the system.
She said studies showed people were not self-isolating because of financial hardship and asked if that needed to be taken seriously.
And Mr Fuller said: "It is to be taken seriously, but let's flip it the other way round.
"Let's not have a system whereby if you catch Covid you get £500. That's an incentive to actually spread the disease and that's not in anybody's interests."
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Ms Wark interrupted Mr Fuller and asked: "Are you really saying that £500 is an incentive to spread the disease?"
Mr Fuller said: "I said let's not have the incentive, I didn't say it was. Let's not have an incentive that would encourage people to catch the disease.
"Our job is to bear down on it as quickly as we can. When test and trace falls away, local councils are better, cheaper, faster, more effective at bearing down on this at street level and family level.
"Ninety-five per cent of cases that national test and trace finds too difficult are now solved in Norfolk in our county.
"That's the best way to beat this disease and to help those who need the help and to focus attention where it is best applied rather than prophylactically over everybody."
Steve Morphew, who leads the opposition Labour group at Norfolk County Council, said: "To suggest people would catch Covid so they could get £500, after the sacrifices so many have made at such financial and personal cost over such a long time beggars common decency."
But speaking on Friday, Mr Fuller said he had not been saying the UK should not have the £500 payments, but that the country should not adopt the New York approach.
He said: "A direct question was asked about whether we should have the New York system here and my answer was no, we shouldn't.
"We need a more targeted scheme for those who need help the most, to ensure small infections do not turn into big outbreaks."