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Statutory Sick Pay: Covid-19

Volume 685: debated on Monday 30 November 2020

What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of statutory sick pay during the covid-19 outbreak. (909449)

Statutory sick pay provides a minimum level of income for employees who are unable to work. We have made temporary changes to support people to follow public health advice on coronavirus.

At £95.85 a week, the level of statutory sick pay is just too low, and it excludes 2 million of those on the lowest pay. To qualify for the Government’s test and trace support payment, people need to be receiving social security payments like universal credit; according to the Resolution Foundation, seven out of eight workers will not qualify for it. What assessment have the Government made of the number of people who are ineligible for either statutory sick pay or the test and trace support payment? Will they commit to increasing the level of statutory sick pay and extend it to everyone, including the low-paid and the self-employed?

Those required to stay at home by NHS Test and Trace could be eligible for the additional £500 of financial support if they are on UC, working tax credits, employment and support allowance, jobseeker’s allowance, income support, housing benefit or pension credit, and that is just part of our wider targeted welfare safety net.

For testing and tracing to work effectively, people need the reassurance that they will be able to feed their families. Statutory sick pay is not adequate to support people who need to self-isolate, so will the Minister give us hope that the Government will provide the necessary support to allow people not to have to choose between their health and their livelihoods?

The hon. Member is right to highlight the importance of this matter, and that is why statutory sick pay is part of the wider targeted financial support that we offer. Depending on eligibility for individual households, they could also get support through universal credit, new-style ESA or the self-employed income support scheme.

I have been inundated with constituents contacting me about low statutory sick pay and problems claiming the isolation benefit. One said:

“I work as an agency nurse. If I don’t work I don’t get paid. My husband tested positive who works and so I had to self-isolate. I fulfilled 3 of the 4 isolation criteria so I didn’t get a penny. As a result I have lost 2 weeks wages. I am NOT happy. I can very easily see why people don’t bother to get tested and go into work even if they have symptoms or have been in contact. Simply lack of income.”

What will the Minister do to stop people on low incomes being financially punished when they are trying to do the right thing?

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy rightly have been introducing stronger and clearer guidance for employers. Employees who are not able to get reasonable adjustments put in place should either speak to their union representatives or can go through ACAS to seek resolution. Nobody should be going into work when they are meant to be self-isolating or are sick through covid.