UK Government announcement on sick pay leaves poorest workers unprotected.
The UK Government is not doing enough to protect workers who self-isolate in response to the coronavirus outbreak, according to a charity.
Boris Johnson has announced that people who take time off work to prevent the spread of the virus will be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP) from their first day off, rather than the usual fourth.
The move means those receiving SSP will get an extra £40, assuming they meet the threshold of earning £118 a week.
Those without access to SSP, such as freelancers or people on zero-hours contracts, will not qualify for the extra cash. The UK Government’s current advice to people in these situations is to apply for Universal Credit.
Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, welcomed the extension to SSP but cautioned that it would not help some of the country’s most vulnerable workers.
“This will not be enough to protect workers who may need to self-isolate in response to the virus,” he said.
“Statutory sick pay should be significantly increased from its current level of £94.25 to reflect the cost of living, and the qualifying wage of £114 should be removed.”
Mr Kelly warned that if coronavirus continues to spread at its current rate there is a “high risk that many more people will be swept into already staggering levels of poverty in this country”.
He added: “The challenges of responding to the virus highlight existing failings in both the labour market and social security system. Workers on zero-hours contracts will have no access to sick leave and have been recommended to apply for Universal Credit. But we know that the five week wait for first payments of the benefit is already driving destitution.
“Immediate safeguards should be introduced for workers who are deemed as self-employed or are on zero or short hours contracts and the scandalous and unnecessary wait for Universal Credit should be brought to an end.”
Public service union Unison also urged the UK Government to do more to prevent lower-paid workers losing out.
General secretary Dave Prentis said: “This move won’t help care staff whose employers are telling them they won’t get paid at all if they go into isolation.
“Nor will it provide comfort to workers on zero-hours contracts, or those with multiple jobs bringing in less than the £118 weekly threshold at which sick pay kicks in.
“Workers self-isolating shouldn’t have to take a financial hit for doing the right thing. They should be paid in full, with the government stepping in to help out struggling smaller employers.
“People shouldn’t be faced with a choice of making ends meet or following public health advice and helping prevent the spread of the virus. The lives and livelihoods of vulnerable patients and staff must come before profits.”