A top Tory has been slammed for suggesting a universal £500 isolation payment would be an “incentive to spread” Covid.
Labour condemned John Fuller, chairman of the District Councils Network, for his comments in a TV interview.
People forced to self-isolate – either with Covid or because a contact has it – can claim a £500 Test and Trace Support Payment.
But millions have missed out because claimants must fulfil a long list of criteria including being in work, unable to work from home and on certain benefits.
Critics have urged the £500 payment to be extended more widely amid fears huge numbers are failing to isolate.
But Mr Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council and deputy Conservative leader for the Local Government Association, told BBC Newsnight: “It is to be taken seriously, but let’s flip it the other way round.
“Let’s not have a system whereby if you catch Covid, you get £500.
“That is an incentive to actually spread the disease, and that’s not in anybody’s interests.”
Shocked host Kirsty Wark hauled him up, asking: “Are you really saying £500 is an incentive for people to spread the disease?”
Mr Fuller then appeared to back-pedal on his comments, saying: “What I’m saying is… let’s not… I said let’s not have the incentive, I didn’t say it was, let’s not have an incentive that would encourage people to catch the disease.
“Our job is to bear down on it as quickly as we can.”
Liverpool metro mayor Steve Rotheram cited figures showing 70% of applications for a £500 payment were being rejected.
He told Newsnight: “There is no one-off £500 payment that would convince anybody, even on low pay, to actually get Covid.”
He later tweeted: “Shocking suggestion from the Tory I was on #Newsnight with that people would try and catch COVID for £500.
“Nearly 130k people have died of COVID in the last year alone because of his party’s handling of the pandemic. What an insult.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy added: “The Tories really don’t think much of us all do they?”
Labour MP Alison McGovern said: “Didn’t quite believe my ears but the Tory man did actually say this. Even Kirsty Wark was shocked.”
A leaked Department of Health paper in January suggested expanding the eligibility of the £500 payment – but Downing Street said there were no plans to do so.
That is despite Test and Trace chief Dido Harding telling MPs in February “circa 20,000” people were failing to isolate per day.