Concerns rise over being 'off work' during Coronavirus pandemic

Missing just a week of work because of coronavirus could leave some Brits in financial difficulty. (Michael Longmire/Unsplash)

A quarter of workers facing statutory sick pay or no pay have said they’d suffer financial hardship in just one week if they have to take time off for Coronavirus. 

A survey of 1,000 UK workers by YouGov on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows significant concerns over financial hardship and ability to keep working during the COVID-19 crisis.

As part of the government’s move to the “delay” phase of its COVID-19 response, people with a high temperature or persistent cough have been advised to self-isolate for a week. This means that many more people stand to be off work, in addition to those already self-isolating due to travel in an affected area or those who have been in contact with a known case of COVID-19.

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But the CIPD’s survey found that just half of workers (48%) said they would receive their normal salary if they had to self-isolate, because they qualify for contractual sick pay from their employer. Meanwhile, a quarter (24%) would receive statutory sick pay (SSP), 7% would have to take unpaid leave as they are not eligible for SSP and 3% would have to take the time as paid annual leave. 

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that nearly 7 million UK workers don’t qualify for SSP: 5 million don’t qualify because they’re self-employed and 1.7 million because they don’t meet the earnings threshold for SSP of £118 per week. 

Separate analysis by the Resolution Foundation suggests the average UK worker would lose more than two-thirds of their income if forced to rely on statutory sick pay.

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In response, the CIPD is urging the government to go beyond the measures announced in the budget and do more to support employers and workers at this critical time.  

Although the government announced a £500m hardship fund in the budget, “clear and consistent eligibility criteria is urgently needed to ensure economically vulnerable workers can benefit from it,” it said.

It is specifically calling for the government to increase statutory sick pay, open up statutory sick pay to all working people, and clarify eligibility for the planned hardship fund.

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The government should, at least temporarily, raise the level of SSP — currently £94.25 a week — to be significantly closer to the equivalent of someone earning the national living wage of £294 for a 37.5 hour working week, the CIPD said.

In addition to this, eligibility for SSP “should be extended during the crisis to all working people including the millions of self-employed, those earning below the SSP earnings threshold and gig economy workers.”

SSP has been reformed to be payable from day one and this would be the “quickest, most efficient way for economically vulnerable people to access funds,” the institute said.