A pilot to address Covid-19 transmission in areas of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough where rates remain stubbornly high has been given the green light by Government.
These areas are known to have 'enduring transmission' which means that the virus is embedded and spread across our communities.
Although rates of Covid-19 have reduced across many areas of the country, they have dropped more slowly in Peterborough and Fenland. Moreover rates in Peterborough remain higher than the national and regional average, despite extensive work with communities. Like other parts of the country with enduring transmission the working age population has the highest rate of covid-19 cases.
As a result, Peterborough City Council and Fenland District Council, along with South Holland District Council, where rates are also persistently higher than average, submitted a proposal to Government for funding to provide additional support for employees and employers in specific sectors.
The Government has today confirmed that it is allocating £2.6 million to allow the pilot to be rolled out across the three areas over the next three months. It is the first pilot of its kind to be given the go-ahead by Government.
It will focus on the food production, packaging/distribution, general warehousing and construction industries and, in particular, will target lower paid workers and those on zero-hour contracts who have higher rates of the covid-19 infection. These groups of worker often experience wage and job insecurity that affects their willingness to be tested and then self-isolate if positive. In addition, they often experience over-crowded accommodation and travel to work arrangements, that are not covid-safe.
The bid focuses upon a number of areas to address the behaviours and opportunities for these workers.
The main areas will be:
- Ensuring that workers will not experience financial hardship if they are self-isolating, through providing additional payments to workers, that for some, will be in addition to the £500 grant available to those on benefits, if they are able to demonstrate hardship. Many workers are not entitled to company sick pay and have to rely on statutory sick pay.
- We know some workers are reluctant to access funding, so payments will be channelled through a trusted third sector organisation with the support of local authority staff and systems.
- We will work to increase job security for employees. Many employees fear they will lose their jobs if they self-isolate. We will work with key agencies such as the Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) that have regulatory powers, to engage with agencies and employers to support them to increase job security for workers self-isolating.
- A key challenge for managing transmission is ensuing that workers travel to their workplaces in 'safe' transport. We will pilot a limited network of COVID-safe public transport links across Peterborough, Fenland and South Holland for the transportation of agency workers and those living in rural areas to the workplaces that we are targeting. Marshals will travel on buses and control queues at boarding points.
- Many workers are unable to meet rent payments or for some, pay their mortgages. In certain circumstances, payments will be made to ensure arrears are not incurred or homes lost.
- Some people have accommodation where it is difficult to self-isolate. Covid safe accommodation will be available - where needed, for people who test positive to allow them to self-isolate, particularly if they live in a HMO.
Val Thomas, Acting Director of Public Health for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said: "The challenges that we face in parts of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to reduce rates of Covid-19 are not unique, many other areas with persistently high rates face similar issues.
"We have known for some time that one of the barriers to reducing Covid-19 rates in parts of Peterborough and Fenland is that we have a higher proportion of people who work in sectors where we know certain factors mean that the virus spreads more easily. This is often because staff who are on lower incomes and zero-hour contracts may be less likely to test and self-isolate because of the fear of losing income, or worse, their job. It is also likely that they travel to work in large groups and often live in houses of multiple occupancy, where we know the virus spreads more easily.
"We want all of the measures included in our pilot to instil greater confidence in people to get tested and give them the confidence to let their employer know that they have tested positive and to self-isolate if needed. It will also allow us to support employees to access safer travel arrangements.
"Our rates of Covid-19 across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have reduced sharply in recent months and that is thanks to everyone's hard work and determination for which we are so grateful. This pilot will help us to reduce those rates further and ensure that they do not rise again so that we can return to a more normal way of life as quickly as possible and avoid further damaging lockdowns and restrictions. It also shows a confidence in us to test our theories around how we can reduce rates of Covid-19 in certain sectors and to share learning with other areas of the country which have similar challenges."
Following Government approval, the councils are now putting into action the different aspects of the pilot so that work can begin with employers as soon as possible.
The challenges that we face in parts of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to reduce rates of Covid-19 are not unique; many other areas of the country with persistently high rates face similar issues.
This is the first pilot of its kind to be signed off by Government, which shows a confidence in us to carry this forward and to share learning with others.
This pilot will target the causes of Covid-19 transmission in areas of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough where rates remain stubbornly high.
During the summer months, the workplaces that we are targeting become even busier, fruit and vegetable picking and packing for example, so the timing of this pilot could not be better.
Our communities have done a fantastic job and that is why we have seen rates reduce so much in recent weeks and months. However, we know that a good number of our residents have genuine barriers to self-isolation and that is what this pilot will help us tackle.
Many of our residents are in low paid jobs and on zero hour contracts which means they are less likely to self-isolate because of the impact it could have on their lives. We need to support those residents so they are financially able to self-isolate and have job security.
This pilot will help us tackle the much higher than the national and regional average rates of Covid-19 across parts of Peterborough and Fenland, which remain despite extensive, work with our communities.
All of the measures included in our pilot will allow us to better support workers and their employers and to put in place safer living and travel arrangements. This will mean that workers are more likely to get tested and to let their employer know that they have tested positive, more likely to self-isolate if needed.