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Sick pay for all – why the benefits system isn’t the answer

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​​​​​​​The benefits system can’t support the millions of workers who don’t earn enough to get statutory sick pay. We need #SickPayForAll to stop the spread of coronavirus.

As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, more and more workers are being told to self-isolate or work from home to delay its spread.

Around 2 million workers miss out on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP ) because they don’t earn enough to meet the £118-a-week threshold.

Those in insecure and precarious work are more likely to miss out, including over a third of those on zero-hour contracts. And self-employed workers are not entitled to SSP at all.

Last week, the government listened to unions and temporarily removed the three-day wait for statutory sick pay for self-isolating workers.

But there was nothing for the 2 million who don’t earn enough to get SSP.

The Prime Minister told those who’re missing out on sick pay that they could claim through the existing benefit system. But we know that the serious flaws in the UK’s social security system means that’s not an answer.

There’s two main benefits that people who don’t qualify for statutory sick pay might be able to claim.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is the main benefit for people who cannot work because they have a sickness and disability. Universal Credit can be claimed for those who don’t qualify for that.

But both have serious flaws that mean they won’t work for those asked to self-isolate because of the coronavirus.

That’s why we need decent #SickPayForAll from day one – for every worker in the UK.

Why Employment and Support Allowance isn’t the solution

If people haven’t qualified for Statutory Sick Pay it’s quite unlikely they’ll qualify for Employment and Support Allowance.

To claim the main form of ESA:

  • You must have paid sufficient National Insurance contributions in the last 2 to 3 years to be eligible
    So low earners are likely to miss out.
  • There’s a 7-day waiting period for the benefit – making it particularly unsuitable for those needing immediate financial support in cases of self-isolation.
  • The entitlement is £73.10
    That’s even lower than SSP and completely inadequate to meet the cost of living.
  • You need to make an appointment at the job centre and have evidence of illness from doctor
    This is simply not practical during an epidemic.

Why Universal Credit won’t work either

The government seems to be suggesting that people who don’t get SSP might be able to claim Universal Credit instead.

This shows a complete lack of understanding about how Universal Credit actually works. That’s because among Universal Credit’s many problems:

  • There’s a minimum 5-week wait for the first payment . The advanced payment offered also has to be paid back. The TUC has been campaigning for the five-week wait to be scrapped since before Universal Credit was introduced. This should be another wake up call to the government that this policy just isn’t fair.
  • If you have savings above £16,000 you’re not eligible . Savings over £6,000 but less than £16,000 will also affect how much UC you can get. For each £250 (or any part of £250) you have over £6,000, your UC will reduce by £4.35 in each assessment period.
  • The strict monthly assessment period in UC is highly complex
    It’s based on the date of someone’s claim rather than being aligned with pay cycles.

The government needs to stop ducking this problem, and fix it urgently.

Better sick pay for everyone will help prevent the spread of coronavirus. And it’s the right thing to do for 2 million of the lowest paid workers in the country. They can’t afford not to work.

That’s why the earnings threshold for Statutory Sick Pay has to go. And why we need decent #SickPayForAll.

If you think sick pay should be higher, take action today and sign the petition below

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