Local authorities have built the self-isolation support grant to fit within the wider Covid supports that they have in their areas. Any variation in the number of applications for the grant or in the award rate depends on the spread of the virus. There is no consistent link between deprivation and award rates, although areas of high deprivation tend to make a greater number of awards.
Early engagement with local authorities suggested that a major reason for applications being rejected was that they came from people who earned more than the income threshold for the grant. We significantly increased that threshold in February. We will begin reporting the impact of the updated eligibility from April and will continue working with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and with local authorities to identify further potential improvements.
Overall, fewer than one in three of the people in Scotland who have applied for a self-isolation grant have received one. Worryingly, approval rates are as low as one in six in some council areas. It is rapidly becoming a postcode lottery. In North Lanarkshire and Glasgow, two of the council areas with the highest deprivation levels, the success rate for applications is below 20 per cent, whereas in Edinburgh almost 50 per cent of those who have applied for the grant have been successful.
Does the First Minister agree that such wide variation suggests that something is not quite right about the system, particularly if areas of high deprivation have such low success rates? Will she commit to an urgent review of the scheme to ensure that there is a higher success rate, particularly in areas of high deprivation where our poorest communities may be losing out?
I do not think that we need to have an urgent review, because we are reviewing the situation on an on-going basis, and the changes that we have already made to eligibility would bear that out. When we think that changes are required, we are responding to make sure that more people get access. We are seeing that the number of applications being approved is increasing. In January, awards were 33 per cent higher and applications were 36 per cent higher than was the case in December. Eligibility has, of course, been extended.
We will continue to look carefully at the situation. There is some variation between local authorities, although not necessarily all, and that is something that we need to look at carefully, but some of it will be explained by the fact that some local authorities have different supports in place. Self-isolation is part of a wider arrangement of how people are being supported. We look at that regularly and we will continue to make changes as we think necessary to ensure that people are getting the support that they need to self-isolate, because we know that self-isolation will continue to be a key part of our defence against Covid.