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'
The Canary

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.

Low

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.

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.

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  • 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?]

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