Proof Covid is rotting government minds: STEPHEN GLOVER asks how grown-up civil servants even came up with the idea of a £500 ‘reward’ scheme for catching coronavirus as it is ditched
How quickly the pandemic is rotting the minds of supposedly clever civil servants and ministers.
The latest crazy ideas to emanate from Whitehall are contained in a leaked 16-page official document.
Mad idea number one: to pay £500 to every person testing positive for Covid-19.
Mad (and dangerous) idea number two: to give police access to our private health data as part of a crackdown on breaches of quarantine.
The first proposal of a £500 pay-out to anyone with Covid was pretty comprehensively rubbished by No 10 and Treasury sources yesterday, and seems unlikely to be adopted, at any rate in its present form.
But it remains astonishing that grown-up civil servants should have produced such an idea, and that it is reportedly the ‘preferred position’ of Health Secretary Matt Hancock and his department.
How quickly the pandemic is rotting the minds of supposedly clever civil servants and ministers, writes STEPHEN GLOVER
Giving every Covid sufferer £500 could cost up to £453million a week, according to the official document.
That equates to £23.5billion a year – about half the annual defence budget.
Of course, it would probably work out at less – unless the pandemic grinds on for the foreseeable future.
But given that the Government has already spent £280billion on supporting the economy, the country can’t afford another financial commitment of this magnitude.
A commitment, moreover, that would be tailor-made for fraudsters and ne’er-do-wells. The purpose of the £500 handout would be to induce infected people to stay at home and self-isolate.
What would prevent someone pocketing the cash and then ignoring the rules? Others might become relaxed about catching Covid – or conceivably even try to get infected – in the expectation of a reward.
The first proposal of a £500 pay-out to anyone with Covid was pretty comprehensively rubbished by No 10 and Treasury sources yesterday, and seems unlikely to be adopted, at any rate in its present form. Pictured: Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Granted, some people are frightened of taking a test for fear it might prove positive and lead to mandatory self-isolation.
The Government says only 17 per cent of those with symptoms are coming forward for a test, though that figure seems improbably low to me.
Whether it is or not, there’s no denying that, during the mass testing programme in Liverpool last November, the take-up was small in poorer areas, presumably because people were frightened that a positive test would lead to self-isolation and loss of income.
A better scheme may be needed to encourage infected people to be tested and then self-isolate.
Existing arrangements, costing some £36.5million a week, are aimed at those on welfare.
But a whopping giveaway for everyone irrespective of income – which can be easily manipulated by the devious and dishonest – seems to me to verge on the lunatic.
But it remains astonishing that grown-up civil servants should have produced such an idea, and that it is reportedly the ‘preferred position’ of Health Secretary Matt Hancock and his department
That Mr Hancock should have embraced it underlines how much he and some other ministers have jettisoned economic good sense in their efforts to control the virus, which have hardly been conspicuously successful by the yardstick of international comparison.
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has been cast in the role of an indulgent uncle who writes endless cheques for his voracious dependents.
The upshot is that the British people will one day have to pay back stupendous sums of money that would have made even Jeremy Corbyn blench.
It’s not just that some ministers – and I fear the Prime Minister – have demonstrated an almost socialist zeal for spending money.
They have also shown a very un-Tory fondness for increasingly coercive measures.
I’m not talking about police shutting down raves, which are obviously grossly irresponsible.
No, I am thinking about the officious harrying of normally law-abiding people, who fear they will be censured for sitting harmlessly on a park bench.
Which brings me to the second mad idea in the official document – and one not rejected by No 10 in the absolute terms Mr Hancock’s £500 payment has been.
It proposes that individuals’ health data should be given to the police to prove someone has tested positive for Covid.
They have already acquired the power to request information about whether someone is supposed to be self-isolating.
The new idea is that the police should be able to get ‘testing and health data’ from NHS Test and Trace as to whether or not a person has tested positive.
It is an alarming precedent. Where will it end?
Once the police have established the right to access your health records, no one can say where their appetite to know details about your personal health will stop.
I realise this pandemic is a tremendous challenge for any government.
I also acknowledge that in the roll-out of the vaccine it is at last showing a high degree of competence, though of course enormously supported by thousands of doctors, nurses and volunteers.
And yet it seems the values of Conservatism are somehow getting forgotten or buried in the crisis, so that this Government is not only acting but thinking like a socialist one.
If Conservatives stand for anything, it is not for wasting huge sums of money on barmy plans, or increasing the powers and reach of the State to the detriment of law-abiding citizens.
This ill-conceived document may have been disowned by No 10, but the unpalatable ideas inside it live on. They will erupt again over the coming, difficult months.
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