I don’t tend to write political posts on Medium, nor do I like to write about the pandemic as it has felt overdone since last March. But this is something I couldn’t resist exploring as it just comes across as completely ludicrous.
My mum sent me a meme (yep, my mum) regarding the UK government’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. The joke outlined the fact that there are fines in place of up to £800 if you’re caught at a house party, but this is halved if you pay it quickly.
If you then caught COVID-19 at said house party, you could be eligible to receive up to £500 if you’re then unable to work at home due to your self-isolation.
So, you get to party, pay a fine early, and profit £100. This is a simple equation that illustrates why the people of the UK are completely fed up with the government and its endless attempts (all of which have been pretty abysmal) to control the virus’ spread.
Not Quite as Simple as That
Now, let’s dissect this a little further, because as you might expect it’s not exactly a get-rich-quick scheme.
The problem lies in the fact that the fines in place are relatively paltry when compared with other countries. The £800 (it does vary depending on the country and the offense itself, but they range from £200-£10,000) will only be in place if you’re caught at a party of between 15 and 30 people.
But this increases to up to £10,000 above this limit of 30 people. These fines are halved if you pay it early, so you could be due to pay just a few hundred pounds.
Compare this to New Zealand, which is relatively free of the virus now, which had, among other travel bans and preventative measures, fines of up to $300 (£160/$215 USD) just for not wearing a mask on public transport. They had no financial incentive if you caught COVID-19 to self-isolate, only that you had to by law, or you faced more hefty fines.
Not using them properly
Australia, way back in August, had seen 20,000 fines issued in the state of Victoria alone. That represents a population of about 6.3 million people, which is just over 10% of the population of England and Wales combined, which only issued 32,000 fines from March 2020 through January 2021. So, are these fines, that have fluctuated in value about as much as the virus’ presence itself, actually being used productively?
The UK currently sits 5th in the table for overall COVID-19 deaths per 1 million people, while Australia and New Zealand sit 141st and 188th respectively.
This metric minimises the impact of their much smaller populations, but doesn’t eliminate it by any means. I’m just using it for rough illustrative purposes.
There is no doubt that it’s largely down to breaches of the lockdown protocols (during all three of them). So, clearly the fines in place are either not being paid or not being dealt in the first place.
This opens several boxes of the Pandora variety regarding police resources and population comparisons etc, but the bottom line is the fines have had minimal effect on our COVID-19 numbers and thus our ability to live freely. In other words, it’s been a feeble scare tactic that is too soft to have any real effect.
This is where the £500 grant comes in, which has been in effect since self-isolation was written into the legal books on the 28th of September 2020. We have had furlough since March 2020, which has cost, so far, more than £46 billion.
On top of this there have been various other grants, setting our economy further back in the process. Again, another Pandora’s box opens up, but we won’t get into the effects on the economy here.
This grant is eligible to those in England who have been told to self-isolate by the test and protect scheme and will lose income as a result of not being able to work from home during this self-isolation period.
Thus, if you catch COVID-19, you can get paid to self-isolate up to the value you would be losing from not working that week.
So, you don’t just get it for being an unemployed partygoer trying to make a quick Great British Buck. But if you do work, you could go out and get drunk and still profit, right?
The reality of the situation
Probably not. If you get caught and pay a fine you will be on a system somewhere, and I think you could safely bet your bottom-COVID-grant-dollar that you’d come up with a big red flag next to your name if you tried to apply for the grant after breaking the law.
However, if the only thing getting caught in your illegal activities is COVID-19, you won’t need to pay any fines, you won’t come up on any systems and thus you could simply get paid to take the week off. This sounds delightful for those that couldn’t take advantage of furlough and want in on the state-funded work break.
All you need to do is have some illegal fun, catch that silly virus that’s “just a bad cold anyway”, and test positive for it. Then you’re golden, and possibly £500 richer with a few days to chill out on the couch while you “recover”.
Obviously, it’s not as simple as that either. For one, you might not get COVID-19 and still get caught partying, being down up to £10,000. Or, you could get it and experience death up close and realise that no pain such as that caused by this deadly virus is worth a few drinks with your friends and £400 after tax (that’s right, you pay tax on it, almost as if you were getting paid for actually working).
The real takeaway
So, it’s not a case of having a good time with your mates and getting paid to recover from the enhanced hangover. Instead, what these fines and grants illustrate is the clear disparity between the reality of the situation and what the government thinks that reality is.
They believe measly fines of a few hundred quid are enough to discourage people from partying. But they also believe that paying them to recover from said parties while they can’t work is a good idea as well.
They are pitting two unbelievably naïve assumptions against each other in a war of attrition in which the boldest citizens that don’t care about everyone else are the only ones that have any chance of gaining out of it.
A Total Failure
The UK government has failed in the battle against COVID-19 in so many ways, and of course it’s not alone in these failures. However, this debacle surrounding the fines and grants should illustrate just how all over the place things are and have been since the beginning.
Do I know how to fix things? Of course not. Even if I did, would I have any power or sway on the situation? Nope.
But the public is losing out of this, and the government is acting as a catalyst that’s only going to make these losses more numerous and more catastrophic. Tiny fines and relatively massive grants are just one way to illustrate how badly the UK has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, and while it seems almost too bizarre to be true, the idea of profiting from a night out at the expense of those around you is enough to turn anyone against those in power.