Low sick pay is stopping workers from self-isolating

A woman holding a placard that reads 'Could you live on £94.25 an hour Rishi'
Support us and go ad-free

The UK’s unusually low sick pay is preventing some workers who need to self-isolate from doing so – and could be contributing to the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19), a new study has claimed.

And it’s a study health secretary Matt Hancock should read given his comments last month that:

We are peculiarly unusual and outliers in soldiering on and still going to work, and it kind of being the culture that ‘as long as you can get out of bed you still should get into work.


The Resolution Foundation said that Statutory Sick Pay, which only gives out £96 per week, is the lowest level of government support provided by any advanced economy during the pandemic. It only picks up less than a quarter of a typical employee’s earnings while they are sick, much lower than the 60% average across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Resolution Foundation researcher Maja Gustafsson said:

Getting people to self-isolate at home is one of the important tools we have in combating Covid-19.

But asking workers to do that often involves a major financial sacrifice – and the UK’s sick pay regime has been woefully inadequate in providing the necessary support. Many more Covid infections will have taken place as a result.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

The government should use the Job Retention Scheme, which covers up to 80% of an employee’s salary, to encourage more people to self-isolate when they need to, the foundation said.

It said that around two million employees who earn less than £120 a week are not eligible for sick pay at all. This includes one in four part-time workers, one in seven of those who work in retail, hospitality and leisure – customer facing roles.

Support needed

The Resolution Foundation said that expanding the furlough scheme would cost around £426m a month if 643,000 people used it. This would replace the £112m being paid out in Statutory Sick Pay. It also urged more help for self-employed workers who need to self-isolate.

Gustafsson added:

Coronavirus vaccines will take many months to roll out, so more workers will need to self-isolate at home to contain the spread of the virus next year.

Given the failure of the current sick pay regime, the Government must turn now to the far more successful job support schemes to provide workers and firms with the financial support they need to do the right thing.

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. The House of Commons certainly isn’t! How does one expect that multi-millionaire MP’s understand or even know what it is not to have enough money to pay one’s way in life. For decades, the population of Plague Island has been paid slave wages and worked long long hours, to not even be able to pay the bills, whilst the neoliberals get richer and richer. What we need is a purge of the HoC’s of the sirs and millionaires and return the Commons to the Common folk.

    2. “The Resolution Foundation said that Statutory Sick Pay, which only gives out £96 per week, is the lowest level of government support provided by any advanced economy during the pandemic.”

      I’m going to be charitable and assume that the Resolution Foundation doesn’t consider the US to be an “advanced economy,” since we have no general statutory sick pay whatsoever. Outside of government workers, seamen subject to maritime law, and the small percentage of workers who are still represented by a union and have a decent collective bargaining agreement, sick pay is entirely a voluntary affair left to individual employers to offer (and rescind) at will. Not even *food* handlers (in agriculture, grocery stores, restaurants, and delivery services) are required to be provided sick pay. Nor are they required to be provided healthcare coverage, for that matter (let alone first-dollar coverage, i.e., care that’s free at the point of delivery). Think about *that* next time you visit the US and are considering dining out.

      [Personal Anecdote: At one point in my life, I was literally one paycheck from eviction and was working a job that offered neither health coverage nor sick pay. I had to work an *entire week* with full-blown pneumonia because I couldn’t afford to lose the pay. Of course, I never got an official diagnosis because I couldn’t afford to see a doctor, either. I’m *certain* it was pneumonia, however, because all the symptoms fit and because 50% of the high-end lawyers I was working for were out sick with *officially diagnosed* pneumonia at the same time. It was *brutal*, but on the plus side, I lost ten pounds without trying. I didn’t really *need* to, but you can never be too rich or too thin, right?]

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.