Use spending review to increase sick pay, Labour MPs urge Rishi Sunak

Sienna Rodgers
© HM Treasury/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

30 Labour MPs have today urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to use his spending review this week to increase the “deeply inadequate” level of statutory sick pay currently available to UK workers amid the Covid crisis.

The letter organised by Richard Burgon, Labour MP for Leeds East and a former shadow cabinet member, now secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group, advises that the move would help control coronavirus.

Burgon and colleagues from across the Labour Party, including Hilary Benn and John McDonnell, have warned that SSP is “forcing many people to choose between having enough money to live on or self-isolating”.

At £95.85 per week, SSP in the UK is among the lowest in Europe. The TUC estimates that it is equal to only a fifth of the average worker’s weekly earnings and leaves 43% of workers unable to afford self-isolation.

As noted in the letter sent by MPs to the Chancellor today, nearly two million low-paid workers are excluded from statutory sick pay as those earning less than the lower earnings limit of £120 do not qualify.

The group of MPs has called on the government to use the spending review on Wednesday to up the level of SSP available to an amount equivalent to the real living wage and to remove the lower earnings limit.

Commenting on the demands, Burgon described SSP as “not fit for purpose”. He said: “Nobody should have to choose between putting food on the table or self-isolating to look after their own health and that of the wider public.

“We need to fix the broken test and trace system but, also, we need to properly support people who need to self-isolate. Our pathetically low level of sick pay is undermining the public’s efforts to reduce the spread of the virus.”

The Chancellor rejected the idea that workers have not been able to afford self-isolation in a Marr appearance on Sunday, when he said: “Going to work is not the primary reason that people decide not to self-isolate.”

Ministers have highlighted the introduction of a one-off £500 support payment for those required to self-isolate, if they are in work, cannot work from home and will lose income as a result of staying at home.

But the MPs’ letter to Sunak describes the payment as “far too limited in scope” and falling “well below what is needed to live off”. It is only available to those in receipt of Universal Credit or other specified benefits.

The Resolution Foundation has estimated that only one in eight workers are eligible for the £500 payment and said it is a “mess of a system providing too low or no support at all for people if we ask them to stay home”.

Below is the full text of the letter sent by Labour MPs to Rishi Sunak.

Dear Chancellor,

Increase Statutory Sick Pay to Stop the Spread of the Virus

We welcome the news that a coronavirus vaccine could be widely available some time next year. But until then it is essential that your government puts in place all available measures to drive down the number of coronavirus cases.

Key to that is ensuring that people can afford to self-isolate. We believe the government must urgently act to address the deeply inadequate levels of statutory sick pay before the current lockdown is due to end on 2 December.

We are concerned that the current level of statutory sick pay is far too low and is forcing many people to choose between having enough money to live on or self-isolating. This risks undermining important efforts to reduce the spread of the virus.

At just £95.85 per week, statutory sick pay in the UK is among the lowest in Europe. The TUC estimates that it is equal to only a fifth of the average worker’s weekly earnings.

Furthermore, nearly 2m low-paid workers are entirely excluded from claiming statutory sick pay because they earn less than £120 per week.

The OECD has noted the important role that sick pay can play in limiting the spread of the virus by allowing workers to self-isolate. And an Office for National Statistics report found that staff in care homes providing sick pay were significantly less likely to have Covid-19 cases.

Nobody self-isolating should have to worry about paying the rent or putting food on the table and no one should have to go to work instead of recovering from the virus .

The government’s one-off payment for some people who are asked to self-isolate is both far too limited in scope and falls well below what is needed to live off.

We ask you to urgently increase statutory sick pay to the level of the Real Living Wage and remove the requirement for recipients to earn over £120 per week so that every single worker who needs to self-isolate is properly supported to do so.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Burgon
Diane Abbott MP
Rushanara Ali MP
Tahir Ali MP
Paula Barker MP
Apsana Begum MP
Hilary Benn MP
Ian Byrne MP
Jon Cruddas MP
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Peter Dowd MP
Mary Foy MP
Barry Gardiner MP
Rachel Hopkins MP
Ian Lavery MP
Emma Lewell-Buck MP
Clive Lewis MP
Rebecca Long-Bailey MP
John McDonnell MP
Ian Mearns MP
Grahame Morris MP
Mike Hill MP
Kate Osborne MP
Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP
Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP
Zarah Sultana MP
Claudia Webbe MP
Mick Whitley MP
Nadia Whittome MP
Beth Winter MP
Mohammad Yasin MP

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