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A government minister is to be dragged before parliament to explain the sudden quarantine of travellers from Spain amid growing calls for extra financial help for those forced to self-isolate.
Transport minister Baroness Vere will have to appear before peers on Tuesday to answer an emergency question granted to Labour by the House of Lords speaker, HuffPost UK can reveal.
Her boss, transport secretary Grant Shapps, is currently on holiday in Spain and facing a backlash from the weekend decision to reintroduce a 14-day quarantine on anyone returning from the country with just a few hours’ notice.
The move came as Downing Street defended its call for employers to “be understanding” of staff who fear they will lose income or their jobs if they stay at home for a fortnight on return from holidaying in Spain.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and others complained that ministers’ decision to stop such workers claiming statutory sick pay should be swiftly reversed and payments increased to ensure no one was left out of pocket.
No.10 left open the possibility of looking again at the bar on sick pay for those self-isolating on return from abroad, but stressed that advances of Universal Credit could be one way to provide financial help.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “We always keep our response to the pandemic under review and we regularly assess the support available but there is support available for those in need.”
He said the government expects employers to be “flexible” and “understanding” in allowing staff to work from home while self-isolating.
“Where this isn’t possible we would expect that many employers would have their own policies in place for quarantine and we know that some continue to offer full pay for all or some of the isolation period,” he said.
“But if there are people who need urgent support then they may be entitled to the new-style employment support allowance or Universal Credit.”
Anyone who was sacked for staying at home could appeal to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), he added.
But TUC chief O’Grady said: “The government must stop trying to pass the buck for its new quarantine guidance.
“Ministers must be crystal clear with employers that no one should lose their job or face financial hardship for following the government’s rules.
“And they should increase sick pay from £95 a week to at least the level of the ‘real living wage’ of £320 a week.
“It’s not holidaymakers’ fault that the official advice has changed. Workers need reassurance from ministers that their livelihoods won’t be affected.”
Baroness Vere will be under pressure to appear in person for the Lords private notice question granted to Labour’s shadow Lords leader Baroness Smith for Tuesday. The peer has so far conducted her question times remotely via video link despite living in Norbiton, in south-west London.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who along with Shapps and health secretary Matt Hancock imposed the dramatic curb on travel from Spain on Saturday night, said on a visit to Scotland that his own trip to Ibiza had been affected.
“I did crack a joke at the end [of the meeting] against myself but the principle point was that this is a very serious situation.
“The incidence of the virus is higher in north-east Spain [but] it is the case that the incidence of the virus is rising across Spain.
“The fact that I may now have to alter my holiday plans is irrelevant to this decision. It’s an inconvenience for me but that’s nothing compared to the importance of putting public health first.”
Asked if other Britons’ holidays planned for other countries were at risk, Downing Street insisted that “no travel is risk-free” during the pandemic and warned holidaymakers that “disruption is possible” when heading abroad.
The spokesperson said: “Decisions on border measures and travel advice can be changed rapidly if necessary to help stop the spread of the disease.
“Unfortunately no travel is risk-free during this pandemic and disruption is possible and so anyone travelling abroad should be aware that our travel advice and exemption list is under constant review as we monitor the international situation.”