Over 130,000 faced with £500 tax on caring bill with scrapping of free COVID tests

Scrapping free COVID lateral flow tests will slap more than 130,000 people living in Essex with a “tax on caring” bill of £500, a council leader has said.

Across Essex, including the two unitary authorities of Southend and Thurrock, around 133,000 people take regular COVID tests.

Despite the easing of restrictions, the group’s figures show that every week almost 14,300 people in the Chelmsford City Council area, for example, take regular COVID tests.

Their analysis shows that around 5,200 will be affected in Brentwood and 11,500 in Basildon from the rule change that may force them having to pay £5.80 for each test.

Elsewhere in Essex more than 7,000 could be affected in Epping Forest, more than 5,000 in Castle Point and more than 6,100 in Rochford.

The numbers include people who take tests to protect their elderly relatives and friends, or vulnerable workers who work in people-facing industries such as hospitality and are concerned about their health.

Analysis by the Liberal Democrats estimates that the 14,346 people in Chelmsford who take an average two tests a week face a hit of £534 a year, assuming lateral flow tests cost around £5.80 each. This represents a total ‘tax on caring’ for people in Chelmsford of £7,664,198 each year.

These people are part of the almost four million across England facing costs of over £500 a year after the decision was taken to scrap lateral flow tests.

Councillor Stephen Robinson, leader of Chelmsford City Council, said the move will be of particular concern for the 9,615 people in Chelmsford previously identified as clinically extremely vulnerable.

Cllr Robinson said: “Charging people in Chelmsford for the tests they need to safely see vulnerable loved ones is a tax on caring, that risks leaving thousands in this area in lockdown by stealth.

“It means vulnerable people in our community will see fewer loved ones and will be able to enjoy less of their lives. It is unfair and unjust.

“Our Conservative MPs need to make their voice heard and get behind scrapping these plans, to stop our residents who are already being hit with a cost of living crisis being faced with more costs and potentially being unable to access their vital support networks.

“Throughout the pandemic, our residents have been trying hard to do the right thing and keep others safe. The Government should not be making that harder.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the importance of ensuring people who continue to be at higher risk from COVID-19 receive the right advice and interventions.

“After April 1, limited symptomatic testing will still be made available for a small number of at-risk groups – the government will set out further details on which groups will be eligible.

“Vaccines are the best way we can protect ourselves from the virus and we continue to urge all those eligible to come forward.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter