Left MPs boost TUC call for Real Living Wage Sick Pay adding pressure to Labour frontbench

“The left’s demand would elevate UK sick pay from it’s lowest real rate in nearly two decades, and one of the lowest in Europe, and is supported as a direct measure to slow the spread of coronavirus.”

By the Labour Assembly Against Austerity Team

50 Labour Left MPs and Peers, including a number from the SNP and Plaid Cymru, have today released a letter endorsing an increase in the rate of Statutory Sick Pay to a Real Living Wage.

The demand follows the announcement of a new £1bn of commitments to support employers through the omicron surge in the pandemic this month, which the TUC condemned for failing to support employees.

The demand also contrasts with the Labour leadership’s vague call on the government to ‘fix’ sick pay, as it continues to avoid specific policy solutions. The new demand for a living wage sick pay piles pressure on new Labour Shadow DWP Secretary Jon Ashworth to match the demand as the government fails to take action.

The left’s demand would elevate UK sick pay from it’s lowest real rate in nearly two decades, and one of the lowest in Europe, and is supported as a direct measure to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The letter, organised by Socialist Campaign Group Secretary, Richard Burgon MP, highlights how two million workers do not earn enough to qualify for it and that includes almost 650,000 hospitality, retail and entertainment workers. The signatories demand that the qualifying requirement is removed to make all workers eligible, and that it be paid at a Real Living Wage.

The letter coincides with the call by Jon Ashworth, Labour’s new Shadow DWP Secretary, for the government to ‘fix’ sick pay. However, the Labour frontbench – with policy set by the Leader’s Office policy team – fails to set out a target rate of sick pay, neutering its impact both on government or in engaging the public.

The Labour Assembly Against Austerity has been prominently campaigning on this issue and now has over 6,000 signatures on a Sick Pay petition which has been endorsed by several MPs including Clive Lewis, Kim Johnson, John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn, Bell ribeiro Addy, Jon Trickett, Grahame Morris, Ian Lavery and Rebecca Long Bailey.

The TUC has made clear it’s support for Statutory Sick Pay to be elevated to a Real Living Wage. It recently set out how the real value of sick pay was now worth £3 per week less than at the start of the pandemic in February 2020.

Commenting on their demand, TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said, “As the Omicron variant rages and coronavirus cases sweep across the country, it’s time ministers came to their senses and finally delivered decent sick pay for all. That means statutory sick pay you can live on and making sure everyone has access to it.”

Unite the Union’s Hospitality sector have also highlighted that the proportion of workers salaries covered by sick pay is just 19% on average in the UK, compared to 64% in Spain and 100% in Germany.

Many members of the PLP and the Labour Party will question why the frontbench have continually refused to endorse the TUC’s longstanding call for a real living wage sick pay, when the scale of the public health crisis threatens so many livelihoods.

Within the Labour Party, pressure on the Labour frontbench also came from former Shadow Employment Rights Secretary, Andy McDonald MP, who tweeted, in response to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s support announcement, that, “Restoration of the small businesses SSP [Statutory Sick Pay] rebate is welcome, but the rate for workers stays at £96 pw and those earning less than £120 pw continue to get nothing at all. Fix this & lift SSP to a living wage level for all regardless of employment/self employed status.”

Former Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, also condemned Rishi Sunak’s announcement, condemning, “No Furlough. No increase in Statutory Sick Pay. Nowhere near enough business support. Nothing for people on Universal Credit or other benefits & no pay rise for NHS & Care workers. Pathetic.”

And former Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey MP recently wrote for Labour Outlook, that, “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.”

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Photo: Chamber of the House of Commons. Photo credit: UK Parliament

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