Older workers and ethnic minorities have less access to sick pay, study finds

Think tank warns current system risks 'entrenching inequalities’ and could hamper UK’s ability to live with Covid

Older workers, ethnic minorities and people on low incomes are among the most likely to lack access to sick pay, a think tank has said, warning that these groups will find it increasingly difficult to self isolate.

A report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and University College London (UCL) found that households earning less that £25,000 were twice as likely to lack access to any sick pay compared to those earning more than £75,000.

Similarly, workers over the age of 65 were five times more likely to lack access to sick pay compared to those aged 25 to 44. Workers aged between 45 and 64 were also twice as likely as this younger age group to lack access to sick pay.

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The same report found that people from a South Asian background were 40 per cent more likely to lack access to sick pay than white workers. This disparity could not be explained by differences in income, occupation or employment status, which the report said suggested institutionalised racism played a part.

The think tank warned that the economy moves to a new phase of the pandemic, and as the cost of living continues to rise, it will become increasingly difficult for individuals who lack access to sick pay to self isolate.

“As the cost of living crisis takes hold, it will only become harder for people to isolate, which makes it even more important that the government acts now to raise sick pay and make it available to all workers,” said Dr Parth Patel, research fellow at IPPR and UCL.

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Patel added that sick pay rates in the UK were “among the lowest in the developed world”, and that the class, race and age disparities in access to sick pay risked “entrenching the inequalities exposed by the pandemic and constraining the UK’s ability to live with Covid.”

The report called on the government to expand access to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) by abolishing the lower earnings limit and by increasing it to cover 80 per cent of earnings.

The current rate of SSP is £96.35 per week for up to 28 weeks, and is only available to individuals earning at least £120 a week. It is also not available to the self-employed.

The report makes the IPPR the latest in a string of organisations to call for SSP to be reformed. Late last year, a separate piece of research from the CIPD found that the majority or HR professionals polled (62 per cent) agreed that the current rate of SSP is too low and should be increased.

As a result, the CIPD called on the government to raise the level of SSP to be at least equivalent to someone earning the national minimum wage or the national living wage, and for the lower earnings limit to be raised.

The CIPD also called for a consultation on wider reform to sick pay, such as a phased return to work, making the benefit available from the first day off sick (currently eligible individuals only receive SSP on their third day off work), and income protection for the self-employed.