Reducing the self-isolation period won’t fix the UK’s fundamental sick pay problem, the TUC has warned today (Monday), as the new government policy reducing minimum self-isolation from seven days to five days comes into effect.
The TUC says that without decent sick pay available to all, our self-isolation system will fail – pointing out that workers on low or no sick pay face the impossible choice of self-isolating and facing hardship or putting food on the table but potentially spreading the virus.
The warning comes as the union body publishes new analysis which estimates around a quarter of a million private sector workers (267,800) were self-isolating without decent sick pay or any sick pay at all in mid-December (13 to 26 December). Around 209,900 workers had to rely on statutory sick pay, which is too low to meet basic living costs, and 57,900 got no sick pay at all.
The TUC has branded the huge numbers “a serious public health failure.”
The analysis is based on new ONS data which estimates that 2.7 per cent of the private sector workforce – around 723,900 workers – were off work with Covid-19 from 13 to 26 December as the Omicron variant swept across the country.
According to TUC polling conducted by Britain Thinks, around three in 10 private sector workers rely on statutory sick pay, and just under one in 10 get nothing – leaving over a third of private sector workers without decent sick pay or any sick pay at all.
The UK has the least generous statutory sick pay in Europe, worth just £96.35 per week – around 15 per cent of average earnings, compared to an OECD average of over 60 per cent. And it is only available to employees earning £120 per week or more – meaning two million workers nationwide, mostly women, do not qualify.
The TUC has also warned employers that cutting sick pay for unvaccinated staff is no way to encourage vaccination, following announcements from Ikea and Next that unvaccinated workers will have their sick pay cut, and instead have to rely on statutory sick pay.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“No one should be forced to choose between doing the right thing and self-isolating or putting food on the table.
“But that was exactly the choice facing a quarter of a million private sector workers last month, as the Omicron variant raged across the country. This is a serious public health failure.
“It beggars belief that two years into the pandemic, statutory sick pay is still too little to live on and two million workers can’t get any sick pay at all.
“Ministers can’t continue to turn a blind eye to this vital public health tool. We need decent sick pay – paid at the real Living Wage – available to everyone.”
Commenting on employers cutting the sick pay of unvaccinated staff, O’Grady added:
“Unions have been encouraging everyone to get vaccinated and boosted. But cutting sick pay is no way to encourage workers to get the jab.
“And it would be an own goal for public health too, risking further transmission of the virus.”
- Estimates are rounded to the nearest hundred.
-Percentage of private sector workers self-isolating is taken from the ONS business survey, which can be found here: https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/business/businessservices/bulletins/businessinsightsandimpactontheukeconomy/13january2022.
-The number of private sector workers is taken from the latest labour market statistics, available here: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/datasets/summaryoflabourmarketstatistics
- Percentage of private sector workers receiving no sick pay or SSP based on polling conducted on behalf of TUC by BritainThinks. The BritainThinks online survey was conducted in May 2021 with a sample of 2,134 workers in England and Wales – nationally representative according to ONS Labour Force Survey Data. For more information about BritainThinks please visit: https://britainthinks.com/
-The TUC notes that the overall number of self-isolating workers likely to be markedly higher if public sector workers were included.
- UK workers face worst real-terms sick pay in nearly two decades as Covid-19 cases surge - new TUC analysis https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/uk-workers-face-worst-real-terms-sick-pay-nearly-two-decades-covid-19-cases-surge-new-tuc
- Publicly available cost of Test and trace is £37bn – according to the Fabian Society, the maximum cost of removing the lower earnings limit would be £150 million – 0.4 per cent of that. The Fabian Society report Statutory Sick Pay: Options for reform is available here https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/SSPreport.pdf
- TUC research has found that two million workers aren't eligible for sick pay and a third of those on zero hours contracts don't qualify for sick pay - 7 in ten are women https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/sick-pay-works
- Insecure workers are ten times more likely than workers in more secure jobs to get nothing when off sick (51 per cent to 5 per cent) https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/tuc-calls-government-finally-deliver-workers-rights-after-repeated-failures-four-years
- TUC FOI data shows that since the government announced additional funding for the self-isolation payments scheme at the end of February, 64 per cent have of applicants been rejected from the scheme, while just 36 per cent of applicants received the one-off £500 grant to help them self-isolate. https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/failing-scheme-few-people-have-heard-tuc-urges-sick-pay-reform-number-self-isolation-grants
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.
TUC press office
020 7467 1248
Want to hear about our latest news and blogs?
Sign up now to get it straight to your inbox
To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).