Six per cent of Brits have gone to work with Covid symptoms, research finds

Insecure workers even more likely to ignore guidance if they feel ill, as experts call for more financial support for those told to self-isolate

Millions of British workers are being forced to choose between their health and their income because of inadequate sick pay, with many admitting they have gone into work with symptoms or within 10 days of having received a positive test, a survey has found.

In a poll of 1,172 UK workers, conducted by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), 6 per cent of workers had admitted to working with Covid-19 symptoms, rising to 8 per cent among those in insecure work.

The research also found one in 25 people (4 per cent) had gone into work within 10 days of having received a positive test.

Government guidance says anyone who receives a positive test should self-isolate for at least 10 days from the day after they first started showing symptoms or, if they are asymptomatic, 10 days from the day after their test.

The RSA has warned many employees are trapped between following health guidance and earning enough to provide for their families, finding that just 16 per cent of respondents thought statutory sick pay was sufficient to meet their needs. The organisation has called on the government to do more to address the economic insecurity.

“Our polling shows that millions feel forced to put themselves and others at risk of the virus because of insecure work, pressure from bosses and the failings of our deeply inadequate welfare state,” said Alan Lockey, head of the RSA’s future work programme.

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“Rishi Sunak must close this economic security trap – the terrible trade-off many workers face between their health and putting food on the table – by allowing self-isolating workers to access the furlough scheme, and retaining the £20 per week uplift in universal credit.” 

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, also called on the government to urgently review the financial support available to workers told by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate. “It is crucial that people don’t lose out financially for doing the right thing,” he said.

Separate research from CIPD last week revealed a significant postcode lottery in deciding who received £500 under the government’s compensation scheme for self-isolation. A series of freedom of information requests found that just one in three (35 per cent) claims for financial support by people asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace were being paid out by local councils, with some authorities providing support at far higher rates than others.

“Lack of financial support threatens to significantly undermine the system at a time when the need for people to safely isolate at home is greater than ever before,” said Willmott.

Maja Gustafsson, researcher at the Resolution Foundation, said self-isolating was one of the most important tools the country had for combatting coronavirus, but that doing so often meant asking individuals to make a “major financial sacrifice”. The charity has previously called for the government to expand the furlough scheme to cover workers asked to self-isolate and create a basic income scheme for the self-employed.

“The UK’s sick pay regime has been woefully inadequate in providing the necessary support. Many more Covid infections will have taken place as a result,” Gustafsson said.

Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, suggested that providing additional pay could be “a great way to retain staff, demonstrating that the company will go the extra mile to help them in difficult situations if it can”.

“Providing additional financial support to those self-isolating can serve as an incentive to encourage them to follow the rules, and also encourage the continued loyalty of staff,” he said.