The Government's plan for a £500 compensatory COVID-19 bonus will only benefit those who are most likely to flaunt the rules, and is leading the UK down the road to a socialist utopia. What are they thinking, says Jack Mountney.

The latest ridiculous idea to arise from Whitehall was uncovered in a leaked 16-page official document last week: To pay £500 to every person testing positive for COVID-19 and for police to have access to everyone's health records.  The proposal of a £500 pay-out to anyone with COVID-19 were systematically slammed by Number 10 and seems unlikely to be adopted, in any form. But to many it remains astonishing that civil servants should have drafted such an idea. Even worse it's reportedly the 'preferred position' of Health Secretary Matt Hancock and his department.

Handing every COVID-19 sufferer £500 could cost up to £453 million a week, according to the document.  That equates to £23.5billion a year, about half the annual defence budget. But given that the Government has already spent £280 billion on supporting the economy, it's difficult to see how we can afford another financial commitment of this scale – A commitment that would be tailor-made for fraudsters.

The idea of the £500 handout would be to prompt 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-19, or possibly even try to get infected, in the expectation of a reward. Granted, some people are terrified of taking a test for fear it might turn out positive and lead to compulsory self-isolation. The Government states only 17 per cent of those with symptoms are going for a test, though that figure seems surprisingly low. Moreover, wouldn't this £500 'reward' just go straight into the pockets of the ravers, the regulation breakers, and the inconsiderate? The Government, in this regard is rewarding recklessness and stupidity.

Whether my prediction is correct or not, there is no denying that, a better scheme may be needed to encourage infected people to be tested and then self-isolate. For example, during the mass testing programme in Liverpool last November, the take-up was small in poorer areas, presumably because people were terrified that a positive test would lead to self-isolation and loss of income. The existing arrangements, costing some £36.5 million a week, are aimed at those on welfare or on lower income. But a massive giveaway for everyone regardless of income, which can be easily manipulated by the devious and dishonest, seems like an absolutely ludicrous idea that has evidently been drafted with very little thought or consideration.

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The fact that Matt Hancock has reportedly embraced the idea underlines how much he and some other ministers have abandoned economic sense in their efforts to suppress the virus, which have hardly been successful by international comparisons. It seems Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been cast in the role of the generous uncle who writes endless cheques for his greedy dependents. The consequence is that the British people will one day have to pay back astonishing sums of money that would even make Jeremy Corbyn squirm.

The fact that some ministers have exhibited an almost socialist enthusiasm for spending money and shown a very un-Tory fondness for increasing tough measures fills many with dread. We are not talking about police shutting down raves, which are obviously highly irresponsible. No, we are talking about the bureaucratic harassment of normally law-abiding people, who fear they will be reprimanded for sitting harmlessly on a park bench, or taking a coffee on a morning walk with a friend.

Which brings me to the second proposal in the official document, not rejected by Number 10. It proposes that individuals' health data should be given to the police to verify whether someone has tested positive for COVID-19. They have already attained the power to request information about whether someone is meant 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 a person has tested positive. If the police established the right to access your health records, no one knows where their desire to know details about your personal health will stop.

I realise this pandemic is an enormous challenge for any government. I also acknowledge that the roll-out of the vaccine is at last gaining steam, of course immensely supported by thousands of doctors, nurses and volunteers. It seems as though the values of conservatism are somehow being forgotten in the process. The Government is not only acting but thinking like a socialist one with the country seemingly turning towards statist, totalitarian measures.

If the government stands for anything, they will stop wasting huge sums of money on ludicrous plans or increasing the powers and reach of the State to the disadvantage of law-abiding citizens. This ill-considered document may have been rejected by Number 10, but its ill-thought-out ideas live on. I'm sure this is not the end of these proposed laws and the backlash is inevitably going to weaken public trust.

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