“We have the least generous mandatory paid sick leave of any European country.”Rebecca Long Bailey MP.
The UK Health Security Agency has recently estimated that if Omicron continues to grow at the present rate, there could be 1 million daily Omicron infections by the end of December. If true, this is a very worrying prospect. There are fears that hospitals will be overstretched and that key services and industries may grind to a halt as staff need to take time off to isolate and recover.
Imagine being one of those workers and realising that you are not entitled to sick pay and will lose your entire income for over 10 days. Such a dramatic loss in earnings – at a time when a cost of living crisis is squeezing household incomes – will mean that bills and loans won’t be paid, rent and mortgages will fall into arrears, and many will not even be able to afford to eat.
Of course the Government will say that those on low incomes are entitled to a £500 Self Isolation Support Payment but many people haven’t even heard of it and it is so difficult to qualify that most of those who do apply for it don’t get any help. Indeed two-thirds of applications are rejected.
It is important to also note that the sick pay situation has been dire for a long time.
A TUC survey of 2,134 workers carried out by BritainThinks in May 2021, found that:
- Half of insecure workers (51 per cent) receive no sick pay at all when off work. 31 per cent receive just Statutory Sisk Pay (SSP), and only 6 per cent get full pay;
- Low-paid workers are five times more likely than high paid workers to receive just SSP (30 per cent compared to 6 per cent);
- Low-paid workers are also more likely to receive no sick pay at all, with one-in-five (19 per cent) receiving nothing.
And just in the last few weeks, the TUC found in hospitality, retail, and arts and entertainment sectors, 647,000 workers do not qualify for statutory sick pay at just the time when they are most at risk of becoming sick during the Christmas period.
For those workers who are lucky enough to even receive the bare minimum that statutory sick pay provides, they receive a paltry £96.35 per week, the least generous mandatory paid sick leave of any European country, and it is only available to employees earning £120 per week or more.
The bedrock of any civilised society is the assurance that if you fall ill and are unable to work, you will be supported. But when faced with the tidal wave of cases Omicron brings, this basic moral principle goes beyond what is merely civilised – it is a vital tool in ensuring that everyone can effectively self-isolate when they test positive for covid, and so reduce transmission rates to help keep us all safe.
To do this the Government must urgently extend statutory sick pay protection to every worker by removing the lower earnings limit and increase statutory sick pay to at least the value of the real Living Wage at £346 per week.
To keep the system as it is doesn’t even bear thinking about – it will mean millions self-isolating left destitute; or worse, some workers being forced to take great risks in fear of financial ruin.
- #RaiseSickPayForAll – sign the Labour Assembly Against Austerity petition at https://www.change.org/p/rishi-sunak-raise-sick-pay-for-all-tell-rishi-sunak-boris-johnson-poverty-level-sick-pay-must-go