Coronavirus - the problems of self-isolation

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Coronavirus - the problems of self-isolation

A group of researchers explain how the Coronavirus is worst for gig workers – those who are self-employed or do temporary work like Uber drivers.


Childcare workers, maids, personal assistants, and couriers are in the highest risk group; most of them are usually gig workers.

Last week, the UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, talked about his plans for coronavirus: self-isolation. The advice for anyone with a new, continuous cough or high temperature is to self-isolate for seven days.

The PM also said that there will be Statutory Sick Pay from the first day when people self-isolate, and they will not have to wait until the fourth day. But this policy does not help workers in the gig economy. It is not for the self-employed and most gig workers are self-employed.

Many businesses are moving online and suggesting people work online at home. But self-isolation at home means first, that everyone has a safe home where they can isolate themselves, and second, that they can afford to stay at home. But who is going to provide care for the self-isolating people? And who is going to care for the people providing the care? There is a problem here - if no one is protecting the people providing the care, none of us are protected.

Workers we are not caring for

There are many photos or videos of empty shelves in supermarkets or showing there is not enough toilet paper and there are not enough hand sanitizers or and tinned foods. The supermarkets are saying that there will be enough food and toilet paper. But no one is thinking about the financial, physical, and mental risks of the workers who fill the shelves or deliver the food to self-isolating people.

In the past two weeks, people with the symptoms of coronavirus used Uber and other ridesharing services to get to hospitals. They did not call ambulances or ask for help from healthcare providers. And then drivers got the virus. Of course, workers who deliver food and other goods and the people who provide care will also get the virus. A New York Times article shows that childcare workers, maids, personal assistants, and couriers are in the highest risk group. Most of them are usually gig workers.

There are also big psychological and financial problems for gig workers as they sometimes get a lot more work and sometimes a lot less work. Many people are staying off the roads. And so there is less work for rideshare workers. But there is a lot of work for delivery services for supermarkets.

Tourism has a big problem but there will be more and more work for cleaners, domestic workers, and care workers. This is because the UK is asking people over the age of 70 and other vulnerable people to start isolating themselves. This is because family and friends will not be there to help them. Gig workers must continue to work with the risk of getting ill and infecting their families, colleagues, and housemates. Or if they do not work, they will lose money.

Some food delivery services are trying ‘contactless’ delivery for workers. Some ask their workers to wear masks and others have sick pay for workers with the coronavirus.

But this is not enough and it is for only short-term protection and does not cover everyone. But there are very different working conditions. A small number of workers are employees but most are self-employed. This means that they do not have employment protections, such as sick pay or unemployment benefits.

Our interviews show that many gig workers live hand to mouth, and they just cannot afford to take time off. Some workers have leases and other payments that they must make and so they cannot stop work until they earn the money they owe.

And gig workers still have contact with restaurant workers, supermarkets, and travel in public places. For some gig work, ‘contactless’ is not possible. Drivers, care workers, domestic workers, and beauticians must have contact with their clients. Also it is not always possible for a worker to prove that they are ill as there is not enough testing and the UK government’s policy is that only people in hospitals will be tested.

Living hand to mouth

Self-isolation is a luxury, and it is not a good public policy, if there is a risk for people who provide the services.

When we look at who can and who cannot self-isolate, we see the inequality in our society today and also how we are linked to one another. We need to delay the risks of catching the virus for the many, but also share the risks faced by the vulnerable in society - the elderly, the sick, or the self-isolating, or those who care for them.

Companies and the government need to do more to protect gig workers, so that they can continue to provide care. With sick pay and other schemes offered to workers, our research shows that workers do not always know about them or some contracts make it difficult to have them. But they urgently need sick pay schemes that cover them for at least 14 days, as the government recommends. Hand sanitizers, cleaning equipment, and health check-ups need to be free. Lease fares or any other payments need to stop until the coronavirus is over.

Governments also need to do more and provide financial support to workers who need to self- isolate and provide unemployment benefits and sick leave for all workers during and after the virus Coronavirus shows what gig workers do in the day-to-day life of society. It also shows the problems and risk they have every day. We are all in this together, and we need to look after the workers who provide the important services in society. Self-isolation is a luxury; social protection should not be.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)