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  • A third of key workers (33%) say they do not get full sick pay
  • A quarter of key workers (24%) say they get only £96pw statutory sick pay
  • Extending sick pay protection to all workers would cost the same as just 1% of the test and trace budget

New analysis published by the TUC today (Thursday) shows that one in 12 key workers (788,000 people) do not qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP) – despite many of them being at greater risk from Covid-19 due to the frontline nature of their job.

The analysis uses the same definition of key worker as government. It finds that those excluded from SSP include more than a quarter of cleaners (27%) and retail workers (26%); nearly one in 10 teaching assistants (9%); and over one in 20 care workers (6%).

Additional figures from polling for the TUC by BritainThinks show that, for those who self-identify as key workers in the context of the Covid pandemic, a third (33%) report getting less than full sick pay (below their usual rate of pay); and a quarter (24%) report getting only the minimal protection of SSP at just £96 per week.

Decent sick pay protection

The TUC is calling for sick pay to be reformed so that:

  • The lower earnings limit rule is removed, allowing the lowest paid workers to qualify for statutory sick pay for the first time
  • The rate of SSP is raised to at least the level of the real living wage (£330 per week).

Research commissioned by the TUC from the Fabian Society shows that the cost of raising SSP to the equivalent of the real Living Wage for employers without an occupational sick pay scheme would be around £110 per employee per year – or just over £2 a week.

The research also shows that removing the lower earnings limit, which prevents those on low earnings from accessing statutory sick pay, would cost employers a maximum of £150m a year. And it would cost the government less than one per cent of the test and trace scheme to support employers with this cost.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Nobody should have to choose between going into work if they’re sick or should be self-isolating, or doing the right thing by staying home, but facing hardship as a result. But that’s the choice facing many key workers who kept the country going during the pandemic.

“Our key workers deserve the dignity, security and safety of proper sick pay and a decent pay rise too. They have earned it, often in frontline jobs with much greater risk of infection than those who could work from home.

“The cost of fixing the UK’s broken sick pay system is small compared to other public health measures like test and trace. Ministers must urgently make every worker eligible for statutory sick pay. And it should be worth at least as much as the real Living Wage.”

Editors note

- TUC analysis: Estimates of key workers not qualifying for SSP due to the lower earnings limit, are based on the government’s list of key occupations and data from the most recent Labour Force Survey (Q1 2020). The TUC’s analysis suggests there are up to 9.8 million key workers. This is based on linking four-digit occupation codes to government guidance, which is open to interpretation.

- Polling data: The BritainThinks online survey was conducted between the 13-21 May 2021 with a sample of 2,134 workers in England and Wales – nationally representative according to ONS Labour Force Survey data. Data in this release refers to all those who self-select as a “key worker in the context of Coronavirus”.

- Fabian Society report: The Fabian Society report Statutory Sick Pay: Options for reform is available here

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