WHEN I first read that Boris Johnson is introducing fines starting at £1000 and increasing to £10,000 for people failing to self-isolate if they have tested positive for Covid my initial reaction was almost to laugh.

This is what comes of someone whose friends claim he can’t get by on £150,000 a year calling the shots, I thought. Most of us would struggle to find £1000 to pay a fine, never mind £10,000. As a policy, it’s simply divorced from the reality of most people’s financial resources.

But it’s really not funny. Any consideration of how to stop people breaching the rules needs to start with understanding why they might do it in the first place. While, for some, it may be because they are irresponsible idiots who fully deserve to be fined a realistic amount, for others it may be due to their circumstances.

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Scotland: Decision on lockdown to be made 'very shortly'

Currently, if you need to self-isolate, and your employer will not pay you for that time, you can claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). The weekly rate is £96. Not everyone qualifies for SSP though. Some people on zero hours or part time contracts don’t qualify, neither do many self-employed people, though they may be able to claim ESA.

Two weeks off work to self-isolate could therefore lead to real financial hardship for some households. And we need to remember people may have to self-isolate multiple times depending on how often they, or a member of their household, comes into contact with someone with the virus.

Of course, in theory, we should all have some contingency money put by for these sorts of situations - but the reality for low paid workers is that there isn’t any real opportunity to save. They need all of their earnings to live on.

The TUC has carried out research which found that 43% of workers would have to go into debt or not pay bills if they were on SSP for two weeks.

Those most at risk of only receiving SSP are those working in low paid jobs outside their home. They are already more likely to be in debt and unable to pay bills. Higher paid workers, more likely to be working from home at this time, are obviously less likely to experience financial hardship but more likely to receive full sick pay from their employers.

It’s hugely unfair. Those working outside their home, particularly in public-facing positions, are already living with the worry of catching the virus in the course of their work. They shouldn’t have to worry about whether they will be able to make ends meet if they do test positive and have to self-isolate. And the prospect of going into more debt or being unable to pay bills may act as a disincentive to get a test in the first place.

Introducing fines of £10,000 really isn’t going to help encourage people worried about having to self-isolate to get tested. We need to support people in this position to do the right thing, not threaten them. This is why I was pleased to see Health Secretary Jeane Freeman sound the alarm on this approach, commenting that simply imposing fines is not sufficient.

The UK Government does recognise the problem and has announced one-off payments of £500 for people on low incomes who need to self-isolate. While this is less than the weekly payment of £326 called for by the TUC and others, it is still a welcome development, though MPs should scrutinise the detail to ensure that money is not clawed back through benefit reductions.

Equivalent funding should be provided to the Scottish Government through Barnett consequentials and I hope it will be used not only to compensate those who most need the financial support but to widen the net to ensure those not eligible for SSP can receive support.

We are in a very challenging position with regards to Covid right now, with further restrictions probably inevitable. It is essential to do whatever is required to help stop outbreaks from spreading. Better support for people who need to self-isolate is a necessary part of that.

A second wave is not inevitable and we must do all we can to avoid another full lockdown. Our NHS, social care and education systems must be our priority, ensuring that they can continue to function as close to normally as possible. Some health and social care services have only recently been stood back up again. Let’s not put these services at risk of having to go back onto an emergency footing.

We all have a part to play in this by following the FACTS advice at all times and by downloading the protect.scot app to our phones if we can. We’re all probably tired and hugely fed up and longing for the pandemic to be over, so we can get back to normal. But we have a way to go yet. That’s why we’ve got to stick together and keep doing the right things to keep each other safe until we reach the other side.