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  • NEW ANALYSIS: Statutory sick pay worth £3 per week less now compared to start of pandemic
  • TUC warns hundreds of thousands could be without decent sick pay while self-isolating over the Christmas period, risking further unnecessary transmission
  • As Omicron rages, TUC calls on the government to come to its senses and finally deliver decent sick pay for all

The UK now has the lowest statutory sick pay in real terms in almost two decades, according to new analysis by the TUC released today (Saturday).

The last time real statutory sick pay was lower was March 2003 – almost nineteen years ago.

And statutory sick pay is already worth £3 per week less in real terms now than it was at start of pandemic in February 2020, due to increases in the already-low benefit failing to keep pace with the cost of living.

The union body has published this new analysis as it calls on ministers to come to their senses and finally deliver decent sick pay for all – which it says is a “vital public health tool” in the fight against the virus.

The call comes as the Omicron variant rages and coronavirus cases surge across the country – with the highest number of daily cases ever recorded in a day earlier this week.

As a result, some are predicting a miserable Christmas. The Times estimates that four million will have to self-isolate over the Christmas period – four times the amount of 2020.

The TUC warns that if this estimate is correct, hundreds of thousands of workers could be self-isolating without decent sick pay this Christmas, relying on “miserly” statutory sick pay or receiving nothing at all – leading to further unnecessary transmission.

TUC research shows that around a quarter of workers get just statutory sick pay, and just under one in ten get nothing at all.

Recent analysis from the union body also warned that 650,000 workers over the festive period in sectors like hospitality, the arts and retail will have no sick pay.

Decent sick pay for all

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 – meaning two million workers, mostly women, do not qualify.

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 with no sick pay at all.

Removing the lower earnings limit, which prevents those on low pay 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 these costs.

In July this year, the government rowed back on its decision to remove the lower earnings limit – in response the TUC accused ministers of “abandoning low-paid workers at the worst possible time”.

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:

“No one should be forced to choose between doing the right thing and self-isolating or putting food on the table.

“But this is the reality for millions of workers up and down the country who rely on our miserly statutory sick pay, or get no sick pay at all because they don’t earn enough.

“With the cost of living ticking up, statutory sick pay is worth its lowest in almost two decades – leaving millions of workers who fall sick struggling to pay the bills and get by.

“It’s a monumental failure that nearly two years into the pandemic, this vital public health tool has been ignored time and time again by the government.

“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.”

Editors note

- Real sick pay is sick pay adjusted to take account of changes in prices (inflation). For this, we used the CPI measure of inflation, and used Nov 2021 prices. CPI is non-seasonally adjusted. We did this as a monthly time series.

-As SSP rates run from April to March, we used that year’s rate for each of the relevant months. For the estimate of numbers self-isolating with just SSP or no sick pay, this is based on the percentage of the four million self-isolating people who are likely to be in work, and then the percentage of these that will receive just SSP (24%) or nothing at all (8%). These percentages are based on a BritainThinks online survey that 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.

- 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

- 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

- 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)

- 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.

- 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 

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