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  • More people risk having Christmas ruined by Covid infection because of broken sick pay system, says TUC
  • Union body calls for universal sick pay worth at least the real Living Wage

New analysis published today (Monday) by the TUC shows that 647,000 workers in hospitality, retail, and arts and entertainment – key sectors for Christmas festivity – do not qualify for statutory sick pay.

The union body is warning that with new tougher self-isolation rules, these workers are at risk of being left with no work and no income over the Christmas period.

The new rules, introduced as a consequence of the Omicron variant, require anyone coming into contact with a confirmed Omicron case to self-isolate for ten days, even if they have been vaccinated.

But hundreds of thousands of festive workers, who are most likely to come in contact with people over the busy festive period, receive no sick pay while self-isolating, and could face drastic cuts to their livelihoods over Christmas.

The total includes:

  • 238,000 hospitality workers (one in six, or 16% of the workforce)
  • 336,000 retail workers (one in ten, or 10% of the workforce)
  • 73,000 arts and entertainment workers (one in eight, or 12% of the workforce)

The only other sector of the economy with a higher proportion of workers who do not qualify for statutory sick pay is those employed by households – e.g. for example domestic cleaners – at 32%.

The UK has the least generous statutory sick pay in Europe, worth just £96.35 per week. And it is only available to employees earning £120 per week or more.

TUC research has found that this leaves around a third of workers – over 10 million people – with sick pay that is too low to meet basic living costs, or no sick pay at all.

The government introduced a temporary scheme to assist people who face hardship if required to self-isolate. However, TUC research has found that two-thirds of applications (64%) are rejected – in part because the funding is too low, and many workers are not aware of it.

The TUC is calling on the government to:

  • Extend statutory sick pay protection to every worker by removing the lower earnings limit.
  • Increase statutory sick pay to at least the value of the real Living Wage – (£346 per week)

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Every worker should have the security of sick pay if they fall ill or need to isolate. But while we’re out celebrating and buying presents, many workers who make that possible get no sick pay protection at all.

“Our sick pay system is broken. No one should be left to choose between doing the right thing or putting food on the table. And we all risk having our Christmas ruined because our sick pay system doesn’t do what’s needed to stop the virus spreading.

“Ministers must extend sick pay protection to every worker. And it should worth at least the same as the Living Wage to make sure people can afford to isolate.”


Editors note

- TUC analysis: Industry figures are derived from TUC analysis of the Labour Force Survey (July-Sept 2021). We looked at how many hospitality, retail and art and entertainment workers earn below £120 per week, the threshold below which workers are ineligible for statutory sick pay.

- TUC research on sick pay coverage: The estimate of ten million workers without adequate sick pay protection is made on the basis of polling data on sick pay. The Britain Thinks online survey was conducted between the 13th and 21st May 2021 with a sample of 2,134 workers in England and Wales – nationally representative according to ONS Labour Force Survey Data.

- TUC research on self-isolation payments: the TUC sent freedom of information (FOI) requests to councils in May 2021 to see how the scheme was going since it was expanded and funding had been increased. Based on responses from 94 councils, almost two-thirds of applications (64 per cent) have been rejected since the scheme was expanded and extra funding was announced. More information can be found at:

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