The UK’s rate of statutory sick pay is already one of the lowest in Europe. Image: Unsplash / Towfiqu barbhuiya
Britain is getting sicker. There were more than 2.5 million people off work due to long-term sickness in the three months to January, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the highest since records began in 1993. That’s a lot of people claiming sick pay!
The average employee takes 4.6 days off sick each year, according to the ONS, which could mean a pay cut for those who don’t receive a sick days allowance from their employer. And in a cost of living crisis, campaigners and unions are concerned that people will be forced to go to work while ill rather than lose a day of pay.
Alongside rises to the national living and minimum wages, the government has increased the rate of statutory sick pay by 10 per cent this April, but unions say this is still shockingly low.
“Our broken sick pay system put lives at risk in the pandemic. But more than a million working people still have no sick pay entitlement”, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress Paul Nowak told The Mirror.
“And we should never again face a pandemic without full sick pay protection to contain infections. Ministers must get on with fixing sick pay”.
We break down how statutory sick pay works, who is entitled to it, and how the UK compares to other countries.
The statutory amount is the minimum amount that employers must pay employees off sick for up to 28 weeks, but they may choose to pay their staff more and for longer.
A company may have a sick pay scheme (or occupational scheme) that specifies in an employment contract the number of sick days an employee may take with no loss of income.
Statutory sick pay is not paid for the first three days an employee is out of work due to illness. It is also not means tested so will not be affected by an employee’s salary or how much money they have in savings.
There are certain requirements a worker must meet to be eligible to claim. An employee must have earnt an average of at least £123 per week (before tax) in the past eight weeks. This means that many people who work part time, or who have holiday may find that their average income in the specified period of time does not meet the minimum required.
Workers on zero-hour contracts are legally entitled to claim statutory sick pay, however in reality, it is very difficult to claim.
Staff are only entitled to SSP for the days they would have been scheduled to work. Many who work on zero-hour contracts only receive their shifts a week or two in advance, so with the first three days discarded, this up to four days of shifts on which to receive sick pay.
If an employee falls sick and can’t work on a Monday, and they have three shifts scheduled for the week, they will be entitled to statutory sick pay for the shifts they had been scheduled to work from Thursday onwards. If they were scheduled to work Thursday – Sunday, that works out to £54.77.
Statutory sick pay is an employee right that every person is equally entitled to. However, research has found institutional racism is causing some marginalised groups to miss out on the sick pay they are legally entitled to.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found that South Asian workers were 40 per cent more likely to lack access than white people.
“We’re relatively confident in saying this is labour market discrimination,” Parth Patel, lead author of the report told the Big Issue. “There’s unfair practice by employers in terms of who they’re giving access to sick pay to and who they’re not.”
How does UK sick pay compare to the rest of Europe?
The UK’s rate of sick pay is among the lowest in Europe. Workers in Germany are entitled to a minimum of 70 per cent of their wage for up to 78 weeks for the same illness, according to The Local.
In the rest of Europe, sick pay varies from country to country, but in Norway, Iceland, Luxembourg and Denmark are entitled to 100 per cent of their pay, for as long as the state has stipulated.
In France, employees get a maximum of €47.43 (£41.50) a day from the state if they are ill, with it up to the employer how much they wish to top up the rest.
Spanish employees should, at a minimum, receive sick pay for 15 days (starting from the fourth day) at 60 percent of their salary. And in Italy, employees are entitled to receive half of their average daily wage in sick pay for the first 20 days they are off, when it goes up to two thirds once they’ve been off for three weeks.
In the UK, however, as little as 19 per cent of the average UK salary is covered by sick pay, as calculated by the TUC. The UK offers one of the worst sick pay entitlements across Europe, according to The Compensation Experts who ranked each European country on how they treat their unwell workers in 2021, only beaten to the bottom spot by Ireland and Malta.
But in January 2023, Ireland introduced sick pay entitlements of 70 per cent of normal pay up to a maximum of €110 (£96.24) a day, pushing the UK even closer to the bottom of the list.
Which country has the lowest rate of sick pay?
In the United States there is no requirement for businesses to pay to offer any sick leave to employees. However, in reality, 74 per cent of full-time US workers have some form of arrangement with their employer that provides them with some paid time off if they are sick.
Similarly, in Japan and South Korea there are no sick pay requirements for companies to pay, and many staff use their holiday allowance to cover days they are unable to work due to ill-health.
Which country has the highest rate of sick pay?
Iceland is considered the country with the best sick pay package, according to legal services provider The Compensation Experts, which compared the sick pay packages of every European country.
Icelanders are entitled to an impressive 100 per cent of their wage for a minimum of two days for every month they’ve been in employment. Coming second in the analysis is Norway, which mandates full pay for up to 52 weeks of sickness.
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