Fifth of self-isolating workers receiving no sick pay, union warns

Lack of support for those unable to work from home could mean employees are ‘forced to choose’ between breaking health guidance and financial hardship

A fifth of workers forced to self-isolate because of coronavirus but unable to work from home did not receive any sick pay or wages during that time, a poll has found, with experts warning those on lower incomes could be “forced to choose” between following health guidance and going to work.

The survey of 2,231 English and Welsh workers, conducted for the TUC in November, found 20 per cent of workers who could not work while isolating received no sick pay or wages at all.

A similar number of workers in the same situation (21 per cent) had to fall back on their savings, while one in 10 (10 per cent) said they struggled to cover their bills or had to go into debt.

The TUC warned a lack of decent sick pay risked undermining the effectiveness of the track and trace system and the coronavirus restrictions, noting that low earners were more likely than middle and higher earners to have to self-isolate without being able to work from home (one in seven, compared to one in 12).

Even those eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP) could face hardship if this was not topped up by their employers, the union said. Two-fifths (40 per cent) of survey respondents said it was likely they would have to go into debt or miss payments if their income dropped to £96 a week, the current level of statutory sick pay. This increased to 48 per cent for disabled workers.

Under the current rules, workers need to earn at least £120 per week to be eligible for SSP, meaning the lowest earners and those working part time are more likely to miss out on support. Workers on statutory maternity or paternity pay and the self employed are also currently excluded from SSP.

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Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said that with infection rates still rising it was “more important than ever” that individuals were able to self-isolate. “But the lack of decent sick pay is undermining Britain’s public health effort and is forcing workers to choose between doing the right thing and being plunged into hardship,” she said.

O’Grady called on the government to increase the rate of SSP to £320 a week – which the TUC described as a ‘real living wage’ – and extend eligibility to all workers.