New analysis from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has revealed 1.3 million people do not earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay – and 70% of those are women. The union body has also said that zero-hours contract workers are eight times more likely than those on secure contracts to miss out on it as well – fuelling calls for the government to act.
Black and brown women: institutionally discriminated against over sick pay
The TUC analysis of the latest official statistics shows 6.5% of women do not earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay, compared to 2.8% of men.
The lower earnings limit of £123 a week – which is the threshold of income to ensure someone qualifies for statutory sick pay – means that 1.3 million nationwide are ineligible for it.
The vast majority (70%) of those who don’t meet the income threshold are women.
Black and brown women (7%) are most likely to miss out on statutory sick pay – and are more than twice as likely compared to white men (2.7%).
TUC head of economics and rights Nicola Smith gave evidence to a Work and Pensions Select Committee hearing on Thursday 18 January.
Smith reaffirmed the TUC’s longstanding call for decent sick pay for all workers.
Insecure and low-paid work
Zero hours contract workers are eight times more likely than those on secure contracts (30.3% compared to 3.6%) to miss out on statutory sick pay because they don’t earn enough to qualify, according to the TUC analysis.
Workers on zero hours contracts have to contend with irregular hours which may not result in them earning enough to meet the income threshold.
Sales and customer services (11.9%) and the elementary occupations (18%) have the highest proportion of workers who miss out on statutory sick pay as a result of the lower earnings limit.
The TUC says the lower earnings limit means that those who desperately need it are being forced to choose between going without any financial support when they are sick, or working and potentially spreading illnesses to others while risking their own health.
As well criticising statutory sick pay for not being available to all, the TUC says it is “paltry” and not enough to live on. The rate is £109.40 per week – equivalent to just 18% of average earnings.
There is also a three-day waiting period before those eligible start getting the benefit.
This brings the amount for the first week for someone working a typical five-day week to £44, which is just 7% of average weekly earnings.
This is less than what the average household spends on food each week (£56.50) and less than a quarter of median weekly rent in England (£190.38).
A broken system
The TUC says the UK’s statutory sick pay system is “broken”.
The lack of decent sick pay massively undermined the UK’s ability to deal with the pandemic, according to the union body.
It has come under scrutiny in the Covid public inquiry – in which Matt Hancock said statutory sick pay was “far, far too low” and “far lower than the European average”.
The former health secretary added this “encourages people to go to work when they should be getting better” and aids the spread of viruses.
The UK went into the pandemic with the lowest rate of statutory sick pay in the OECD.
Enough is enough (again)
TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said:
Our sick pay system is broken. It’s a national scandal that so many low-paid, insecure workers up and down the country – most of them women – are forced to go without financial support when sick. And for those who do get it, it’s not nearly enough to live on.
Ministers could have boosted sick pay and made sure everyone got it, but they chose to turn a blind eye to the problem during the pandemic.
The failure to provide proper financial support was an act of self-sabotage that left millions brutally exposed to the virus – especially those in low-paid, insecure work.
Enough is enough – it’s time for a new deal for workers…
Amanda Walters, director of the Safe Sick Pay campaign said:
Women already suffer disproportionately from low pay. To add insult to injury these new figures show that many working women are also losing out when they need time off ill.
The UK’s statutory sick pay system is unequal, unfair and ripe for reform. By paying a higher weekly amount to every worker from day one, we’ll all see the benefits of a happy healthy workforce.
Featured image via Prostock-studio – Envato Elements