Sick Pay UK: Why is statutory sick pay so low in Britain?

Coronavirus is sweeping the globe, and in the UK the Government’s response has been increased to the second phase in its four-step plan. With many of the UK potentially facing self-isolation in response, some may be wondering what their rights are for sick pay.

The Government’s advice has changed in line with their upgraded response, now asking those with symptoms of coronavirus – COVID-19 – to self-isolate at least seven days.

These symptoms are fever, coughing and shortness of breath, with the Government adding if you have any of these – do not attend A&E or your GP.

Instead, stay at home and away from anyone who may be vulnerable, like the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions.

If you have to self-isolate for seven days, you will be eligible to statutory sick pay (SSP).

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But why is statutory sick pay so low in Britain?

In the Budget 2020 it was announced those who have to self-isolate would be able to get financial support.

SSP “will now be available for eligible individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 or those unable to work because they are self-isolating in line with Government advice”.

However, the Government has been criticised for the low amount claimants receive, with figures showing the UK is among the lowest in Europe for sick pay.

Britain’s statutory sick pay rate is just £94.25 a week, which on average covers just 20 percent of a workers’ income.

The UK is one of only three countries to apply a broadly flat rate of sick pay, alongside Malta and Ireland.

Britain is also one of only four European countries where those who are self-employed are not eligible for sick pay.

Statutory sick pay (SSP) is available to those who are employed, earning at least £118 a week and have been off work for four consecutive days.

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The current rate of SSP is £94.25 per week and can be paid for up to a maximum of 28 weeks for the days employees usually work.

SSP is payable after three ‘waiting days’ of absence, however new guidelines were introduced to ensure those self-isolating will be given SSP from day one.

However, it is up to your employer – and should be set out in your contract – as to whether you’re paid more than SSP.

Many employers do pay more than the statutory minimum – and the amount you are entitled to will be detailed in your written statement of employment.

You’re not eligible for SSP if you’re receiving statutory maternity, paternity, adoption or additional paternity pay.

The Government says it has introduced measures to make claiming benefits such as Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance easier for those who are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay.

But TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said “relying on our broken benefits system is not the solution”.

She called on the Government to make Statutory Sick Pay available for all workers, and to increase it to at least the level of the Living Wage.

Unison, the public sector union, echoed the call, arguing workers on zero-hours contracts or those juggling several low-paid jobs were “falling through the gaps”.

Assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Care workers support some of the most vulnerable in society.

“Those worried they’ve got the virus should be able to stay at home without fear their families will go hungry.”

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced a package of measures to address the spread of Covid-19 in his first Budget.

These included extra funding for the NHS, and the introduction of sick notes obtainable through NHS 111.

Mr Sunak said the outbreak would have a “significant impact” on the UK economy, but that the Government was doing everything it can to “keep this country and our people healthy and financially secure”.

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