Over 40% of workers in financial hardship if forced to self-isolate, finds TUC

By agency reporter
September 11, 2020

The TUC has warned the government that Test and Trace system risks failure unless ministers boost Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and ensure everyone is eligible for it.

The warning comes as new polling reveals that more than four in 10 workers would be plunged into financial hardship if forced to self-isolate for two weeks on SSP. The new survey - carried out for the TUC by BritainThinks – shows that two-fifths (43 per cent) of workers would be unable to pay their bills if they have to survive on £96 a week – the current rate of SSP.

For low-income workers (those earning below £15,000) the number unable to survive for two weeks on SSP rises to five in 10 (50 per cent). And for those earning below £29,000 it rises to a similar number (47 per cent).

Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of those surveyed said they receive only the basic SSP if they are off work sick.

When asked to select their three top priorities for improving work, increasing the level of sick pay was the third highest priority, beaten only by raising the national minimum wage to £10 an hour and banning zero-hour contracts.

The TUC says the findings highlight how many workers will be left without a financial 'safety net' in the event of a second wave of infections or a spate of local lockdowns.

The weekly rate for SSP is just £95.85 in the UK – one of the lowest rates in Europe. And nearly two million people miss out on receiving sick pay altogether because they do not meet the lower earnings limit.

Most of these are women. And those receiving statutory maternity, paternity, adoption or additional paternity pay are currently not eligible to receive SSP. The self-employed are also excluded.

The TUC says the lack of decent sick pay is a “massive flaw” in the government’s testing and tracing programme, with workers forced to choose between following the health advice and paying their bills.

The union body says the recent introduction of a payment for those on certain benefits is set too low to make a difference, and many of those who qualify for statutory sick pay say they would be unable to get by on just £95 per week.

The TUC’s survey also found personal finances appear to have been strained in recent months, with a third (33 per cent) of workers saying they have had to cut back spending at the end of the week or month in order to avoid running out of money.

Almost a quarter (22 per cent) said their levels of debt had increased in the past three months.

The TUC is calling for government to:

  • Increase the rate of statutory sick pay from £95.85 to real living wage of £320 a week
  • Extend SSP to all workers so nobody misses out due to not meeting the pay threshold
  • Introduce a more extensive support package for household finances, including overhauling Universal Credit, increasing the local authority hardship fund and providing support for those struggling with council tax and rent

The TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “We all want NHS Test and Trace to work. It’s crucial for stopping the spread of COVID-19 and for getting our economy back on its feet.

“But the lack of decent sick pay puts everything at risk. Asking workers to self-isolate on £96 a week is not viable – especially when many don’t have savings to fall back on.

“We can’t have a situation where people are forced to choose between their health and paying their bills. Employers must do their civic duty and make sure workers can self-isolate on full pay. But where bosses can’t or won’t the government must step in.

“Unless ministers fix this gaping hole in our safety net Britain will be ill-prepared for a second wave of infections or more local lockdowns. The government must ensure that everyone has access to sick pay and raise the basic rate to at least the real living wage of £320 a week.”

* Trades Union Congress https://www.tuc.org.uk/

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