The £1billion support package – £6,000 per company – includes the reintroduction of the statutory sick pay rebate scheme which means the government will cover the cost of Covid-related absences rather than employers.
While Labour welcomed the support, Jonathan Reynolds, shadow secretary for business, said it was “frustrating” that the package includes “nothing to address the core amount or eligibility criteria for sick pay”.
The campaign to support workers having to self-isolate has been ongoing throughout lockdowns and returned amid the Omicron surge. Many workers have not been able to afford to self-isolate during the pandemic because of how it hits their pockets, while self-employed people aren’t eligible for statutory sick pay at all.
“This is harming our ability to fight the pandemic,” Reynolds said.
Think-tank The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) also labelled the move a “first step” arguing that the chancellor needed to “go further.”
“The chancellor has subsidised the cost of sick pay to businesses but not shifted the incentives to make self-isolating financially sustainable for many people,” said George Dibb, head of The IPPR.
“He should urgently increase the level of sick pay and expand eligibility so more people can claim it.”
The government has ignored pleas to raise the rate of statutory sick pay (SSP) above £96.35 per week and expand it to include the self-employed.
A delivery driver who delivers for a popular takeaway app but wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing any further work, told The Big Issue how he is now facing being evicted, after losing a week’s wages while in isolation with coronavirus symptoms.
“I sacrificed by self isolating to prevent something happening in case I was positive. I sacrificed my shifts, but now I cannot pay my rent, and I cannot pay my gas,” the driver told The Big Issue.
Despite receiving two negative PCR tests, the driver continued to isolate in accordance with the instructions given to him on the NHS app.
“Tomorrow evening I’m not going to be able to pay my phone, so that means I have to cancel two days of my shift because I can’t work with no internet,” he said.
The driver usually earns around £350 per week, but is missing over a week’s wages after losing six shifts while in isolation.
The driver’s company is currently processing the driver’s claim for SSP. The first three days of absence are unpaid according to current SSP policy, meaning £96.35 is the maximum he could receive.
His rent – £100 paid weekly – is already overdue.
“What we’re seeing here is a low paid worker, making the responsible decision to remove himself from work in order not to potentially spread the virus, and he hasn’t been rewarded by his company to make this decision, he’s been punished,” Alex Marshall, president of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), told The Big Issue.
“What we need to see is these super rich companies, that have profited during the pandemic, to put provisions in place to support low-paid workers to make decisions like this worker has had.”
“People have always struggled with statutory sick pay because it’s not enough for anyone to get by on, but the pandemic has shone a light on it even more,” Marshall continued.
A pub worker in Brighton was recently fired after refusing to go into work showing coronavirus symptoms, with her boss demanding a PCR test result as proof of having the virus.
“The fact that people in this country are being forced to choose between putting food on the table and spreading a deadly virus is not only completely immoral but totally unsustainable,” Paddy Bettington, researcher at the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) told The Big Issue.
“The government needs to strengthen people’s rights at work, increase sick pay immediately to a level people can live on, to protect people’s wellbeing and reduce the number of Covid cases to a level that lets us all get on with our lives.”