The Liberal Democrats have warned that the scrapping of Covid lateral flow tests will amount to a “tax on caring,” with almost four millon people facing costs of over £500 a year to take regular tests and visit vulnerable relatives.
Despite the easing of Covid restrictions, the latest figures show that every week nearly four million people take regular Covid tests, taking two tests a week on average. This includes 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 people who take two tests a week face an average hit of £534 a year, assuming lateral flow tests cost around £5.80 each. This is based on the average costs of a lateral flow test in similar Western countries including Belgium, France, Spain and the US.
The government’s own scientific advisers on the SAGE committee have warned that removing free testing will “increase anxiety” and limit the “social participation outside the home” of those who are clinically vulnerable or who live with someone who is. NHS figures show that 3.7 million people are classed as being in the clinically vulnerable category who were previously advised to shield.
Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey, who is himself a carer, said it could lead to a “lockdown by stealth” for millions of vulnerable people across the country who may be left unable to regularly see loved ones.
It comes as internal polling by the Liberal Democrats reveals that only one in five people support the scrapping of free Covid lateral flow tests, instead of being charged £5 per test. Opposition to the ending of free tests is shared by Conservative voters, with over half (52%) saying they should never be scrapped and another 23% saying they don’t support ending them now but would in the long term.
Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said: “Charging people for the tests they need to safely see vulnerable loved ones is a tax on caring, that risks leaving millions of people in lockdown by stealth.
“It means vulnerable people will see fewer loved ones and will be able to enjoy less of their lives. It is unfair and unjust.
“Ministers need to scrap these plans to stop a cost of living with Covid crisis.
“Throughout the pandemic, people have been trying hard to do the right thing and keep others safe. The Government should not be making that harder.”