14,346 Chelmsford people face £500 "tax on caring" when free Covid tests end

February 27, 2022 11:52 PM

£5.80 LFTScrapping Covid lateral flow tests will slap Chelmsford residents with a £7 million "tax on caring," with around 14,346 people facing costs of over £500 a year to take regular tests and visit vulnerable relatives, Liberal Democrats have warned.

Despite the easing of Covid restrictions, the latest figures show that every week an estimated 14,346 people in the Chelmsford City Council area take regular Covid tests, with 25,412 tests being taken in an average week. 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 the 14,346 people in Chelmsford who take on average two tests a week face a hit of £534 a year, assuming lateral flow tests cost around £5.80 each. This represents a total 'tax on caring' for people in Chelmsford of £7,664,198 each year.

These people are part of the almost four million across England facing costs of over £500 a year after the decision was taken to scrap lateral flow tests. The move will be of particular concern for the 9,615 people in our area previously identified as clinically extremely vulnerable, after the government's own scientific advisers on the SAGE committee 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.

Liberal Democrat Leader of Chelmsford Council, Stephen Robinson, said:

"Charging people in Chelmsford for the tests they need to safely see vulnerable loved ones is a tax on caring, that risks leaving thousands in this area in lockdown by stealth.

"It means vulnerable people in our community will see fewer loved ones and will be able to enjoy less of their lives. It is unfair and unjust.

"Our Conservative MPs need to make their voice heard and get behind scrapping these plans, to stop our residents who are already being hit with a cost of living crisis being faced with more costs and potentially being unable to access their vital support networks.

"Throughout the pandemic, our residents have been trying hard to do the right thing and keep others safe. The Government should not be making that harder."


Notes to Editor

Full breakdown by local authority area can be found here.

According to the latest weekly statistics from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) for NHS Test and Trace, in the week of 3 to 9 February 2022 there were 3,904,391 people in England that tested for Covid-19 using Lateral Flow Device (LFD) or PCR tests. The number of people in the general public that took a Covid-19 test that week (via what is known as "Pillar 2") can be found in Table 1 here - "Number of people tested in pillar 2".

UKSHA data shows that this group took 6,916,248 tests - most of which were LFD tests. The number of LFD and PCR tests taken between 3 and 9 February 2022 by the general public can be found in tables 1 and 3 here. A breakdown of PCR and LFD tests taken in each local authority can be found in tables 2 and 5 in the same spreadsheet.

The above figures suggest that the 3.9 million people testing for Covid-19 each week use roughly 2 tests a week. Should they wish to continue taking 2 tests a week after they're no longer free, they face a cost of £534.25 a year on average.

Publicly available figures suggest that the average retail cost of Lateral Flow tests in western countries including the US, France, Spain and Belgium is roughly £5.80.

Tests taken during week of 3 to 9 Feb 2022

Covid tests in the general population (England - "Pilar 2")

LFD Tests taken


PCR Tests taken


All tests


All people tested


Avg weekly tests per person


Estimated cost of LFD test

£ 5.80

Weekly cost per person

£ 10.27

Annual cost per person

£ 534.25

NHS figures on clinically vulnerable patients can be found here.

SAGE [LINK]: "Removal of free access to testing will make it more difficult for people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to confirm infection and take actions (including self-isolation) to reduce transmission to others. Especially in the short term, these changes may increase anxiety among some people and limit their social participation outside the home, particularly those who are, or who live with, someone who is clinically vulnerable"


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.

Methodology: Savanta ComRes interviewed 2,196 UK adults aged 18+ online between 11th and 13th February 2022. Data were weighted to be representative of the UK by age, sex, region and social grade.

Only one in five (20%) UK adults say they support lateral flow tests costing £5 per test, rather than being freely available. A further one in five (19%) say they don't support this now but would in the long-term. Just over half (53%) of UK adults say they would never support this.

Among Conservative voters, only 21% support lateral flow tests costing £5 per test, rather than being freely available. A further 23% say they don't support this now but would in the long-term. 52% say they would never support this.

Which of the following statements best describes your view on the following changes to Covid-19 policies? Base: All respondents (n=2196)

Lateral flow tests costing £5 per test, rather than being freely available

I would have supported introducing this before


I support introducing this now


I don't support introducing this now, but would support this in the long-term


I will never support introducing this


Don't know


NET: Support this before/now


NET: Support this before/now/long term