Boris Johnson is accused of not doing enough with a £500 isolation payment (Image: Getty Images)

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Government scientists have claimed that if ministers had "acted properly" on sick pay the four-week delay to lifting restrictions could have been avoided.

Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Spi-B group of behavioural scientists, claimed that financial support for those forced to self-isolate was "virtually the worst in the world".

The Government's own officials have accused it of hiding a method for self-isolating Brits to get cash, leaked e-mails claim today.

Civil servants believed staff who are forced to self-isolate could switch temporarily onto the furlough scheme – getting up to 80% of their usual pay.

But the Treasury did not want this to happen, because furlough was not designed to cover people who were self-isolating due to Covid-19.

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So rather than advertising this option, the Government is accused of suppressing it, according to emails leaked to Politico.

Official guidance publicly discouraged self-isolating people from claiming furlough, saying: “The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is not intended for short term absences from work due to sickness. Short term illness or self-isolation should not be a consideration when deciding if you’ll be furloughed.”

Statutory sick pay is worth just £96.35 a week and is unavailable to part-time workers on low hours.

Prof Reicher added: "We shouldn't have been in this position if we'd acted properly and if we'd had proper safeguards to our borders, if we'd had proper support for people to self-isolate, and so on, I don't think we would have been in this position."

Prof Reicher said: "We shouldn't have been in this position if we'd acted properly"
(Image: NTU)

He claimed that "sick pay" in the UK was, apart from the United States, "virtually the worst in the world" and that "only about 50% of people are self-isolating".

He added: "It's not only about payment, it's also about other forms of support," he said.

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson said: “These revelations are shocking.

"The government were advised time and time again how crucial a proper self-isolation system is for curbing the spread of infection, and protecting people’s lives and livelihoods.

"It is shameful and reckless that the Chancellor ignored professional advice and put countless people and workplaces at unnecessary risk when he had the opportunity to help.”

A Treasury spokeswoman said: “We have an extensive support package in place for those self-isolating due to coronavirus including £500 one off payments for those on low incomes.

“Our furlough scheme has saved millions of jobs, helping families who otherwise would have been out of work – and we have spent £65 billion pounds on this to date. In working up the detail of the scheme we had to balance the need to get help out to people quickly while minimising the risk of fraud and protecting taxpayers’ money from abuse.

“Our guidance on furlough has always been clear that employees can be furloughed according to business need and that the scheme can be used for individuals who are clinically extremely vulnerable or at high risk of severe illness from coronavirus.”