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Sick Pay

Volume 817: debated on Monday 17 January 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development What should an effective sick pay system look like?, published on 14 December 2021.

The CIPD report makes a number of interesting points on SSP, many of which had been raised previously by other stakeholders and continue to be assessed by officials. Last year, the Government made clear that the pandemic was not the right time to introduce changes to the rate of SSP or its eligibility criteria. However, as we learn to live with Covid-19, we are able to step back and take a broader look at the role of statutory sick pay. I can confirm to noble Lords and the House that this work is ongoing, but I am not able to give a timescale for when it will be completed.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for her Answer, but the fact is that nobody can live on £96.35 per week—the rate of statutory sick pay—and the lower earnings limit excludes 2 million workers from receiving even this. Both features pose a public health risk by disincentivising those sick or who should be self-isolating from staying away from work. The report of the CIPD, a highly respected body representing human resource professionals, is formidable. It finds that 62% of British employers think that SSP is inadequate. In the light of that, will the Minister agree to look into increasing the rate of SSP and at the other recommendations? There are too many to summarise now, but they include removing the lower earnings limit, improving employer compliance and including the self-employed.

I understand exactly the sentiment the noble Lord raises his question with. I can confirm again that work is ongoing to look at the role of SSP and all the CIPD recommendations. As I said, I am not able to give a timeline for this, but I will go back to the department and stress the noble Lord’s keenness to do this work.

My Lords, since we cannot look at this long term, many look at it short term, and in particular at the plight of many businesses, especially small ones, which find it difficult to keep their heads above water in any case and then find that they have workers isolating for Covid-related reasons. Can any help at all be given to firms in this parlous position?

Throughout the pandemic the Government have demonstrated that they can respond proportionately to the changing path of the virus, in particular through supporting jobs and businesses, and we will continue to do that. As increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases means that more workers take time off and there is an impact on business, the Government are reintroducing the statutory sick pay rebate scheme. That will mean that small and medium-sized businesses can be reimbursed for the cost of SSP for Covid-related absences for up to two weeks per employee.

My Lords, statutory sick pay is around 27% of the minimum wage. Can the Minister please explain why it is set at such a low amount, and can she say whether it is tested on Ministers to see whether they can survive on it? At the very least, that would generate some sympathy for the poor.

The noble Lord is very eloquent in the way he holds the Government to account. I cannot say that it has been tested on Ministers, but I will go back to the department to understand how that figure has been arrived at and then write to the noble Lord and place a copy in the Library.

My Lords, I am glad that the Government are thinking about this, but they have been doing so for a very long time. They have consulted more than once on this but they simply say, yet again, as they did last year, that it is not the right time. If the pandemic taught us anything it is that if you are on low wages, in insecure work or self-employed, you cannot afford to get sick and you cannot afford to do the right thing. Rather than wait for the next pandemic, the next bout of flu or the next difficult infectious disease to hit our country, can we please do something to enable people to do the right thing? We are a rich country; surely people should not have to go to work when they are sick.

I completely agree with the noble Baroness that people should not be forced to go to work when they are sick, especially with Covid, given the danger of it spreading. I know it probably will not go down very well, but I can confirm that this is in train, and I am dreadfully sorry that I cannot say when it will be done. When I go back and talk to the department about the keenness and urgency of Lord Hendy, I shall certainly add that to the shopping list.

My Lords, could the noble Baroness tell us her response to the postcode lottery of the test and trace support payment, revealed in the CIPD report, where 75% of Camden applicants received payments but only 23% did so in Liverpool and just 16% in Sandwell? Could she comment on whether she thinks people in hard-pressed poorer areas are being doubly disadvantaged by the Government’s scheme?

I can confirm to the noble Baroness that there is no intention on the Government’s part to penalise anybody for where they live. The noble Baroness has asked quite a detailed question and, if it is acceptable to her, I will go away and find out the answer and write to her with it.

My Lords, new analysis from the TUC today estimates that a quarter of a million private sector workers were self-isolating last month with no decent sick pay or with no pay at all. Will the Minister commit to meeting with some urgency with the TUC to move forward on the ideas already expressed from these Benches?

I am always happy to meet people to learn more and find out exactly the points they are making. I want to find out exactly who in the department is best to do that, and I will come back to the noble Baroness—but a meeting will happen.

My Lords, the Minister said that the pandemic is not the right time to improve statutory sick pay. Given everything we have heard, when is the right time?

While the pandemic was going on, with businesses under pressure, individuals sick and the NHS understandably struggling, we did not feel it was the right time. I think the noble Baroness is saying to me that the time has come, and that is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, and anyone else who is really worked up about this. I can only go back to the department and do my best.

My Lords, the Government say they are committed to levelling up. Given the fact that most high-paid workers will receive their salary when they are off sick but low-paid workers are left with £90-odd a week, is this not a prime example of where the Government could introduce something to level up in this area?

I am sure the Government appreciate the point that the noble Lord makes. I cannot today give any commitment. I am very sorry, but, as I have said before on numerous occasions, I will go back to the department, where I am sure they will read Hansard with great interest and, I hope, act upon it.

My Lords, why not set a deadline for the completion of this important work? Would not that be a measure of the efficient and successful government that we are entitled to expect?

I really do not think there is any more I can say on the deadline. I cannot give a deadline today, but I will do as I have promised.