Coronavirus emergency sick pay laws could still force 6 million people into debt

Statutory sick pay will be made available from day one when self-isolating, instead of day four, the Prime Minister announced last week, however more than 1.5mllion workers are still waiting on a response on how the Government will protect them if they fall ill with the deadly coronavirus.

To qualify for sick pay, you must work for an employer, be sick for at least four days in a row and earn on average at least £118 per week (£6,136 per year).

However, five million self-employed workers and at least 1.5million low-income Brits that fall below these earnings will not qualify for statutory sick pay.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs: "I can today announce that the Health Secretary will bring forward, as part of our emergency legislation measures, to allow the payment of statutory sick pay from the very first day you are sick instead of four days under the current rules.

"No one should be penalised for doing the right thing."

However, workers' union Unison said emergency action must protect all staff – not just those who work for an employer.

It said staff should be paid regardless of how much they earn or their type of job contract, while provisions should be made for zero-hours workers who should be self-isolating.

Without adequate pay in place, workers could go into work out of fear they will be denied their earnings.

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Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "Employees on zero-hours or precarious contracts are already on low wages. They now face financial hardship if they have to self-isolate.

"The government must bring in emergency measures so these low-paid workers are protected financially, particularly those caring for the most vulnerable in society.

"It should be made compulsory for employers to give them sick pay, even if they’re not officially eligible."

Charity Citizens Advice is now urging the Chancellor to shore up protections for millions of workers in Wednesday’s budget, including making immediate changes to universal credit.

Under emergency guidelines, anyone not eligible for sick pay can apply for universal credit or apply Employment and Support Allowance – however this comes with a five week wait.

Citizens Advice said it saw three times as many visits to its sick pay advice pages last week compared to the same time last year.

It said the current system for sick pay is "inadequate" to deal with the potential scale of the coronavirus outbreak, and could push many into financial hardship. 

Those affected include five million self-employed workers and at least 1.5million people on low income jobs – especially those on universal credit.

Citizens Advice has written to the Chancellor today and urged him to take the following steps in the Budget:

  • Ensure SSP gives people enough to live on and follow through on the government’s proposal to set the level at 80% of statutory sick pay if they are below the current limit to qualify

  • Shorten the five-week wait for the first payment of universal credit and consider waiving national insurance requirements for self-employed people to receive contributory Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Dame Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: "The growing outbreak is an unprecedented backdrop for this Budget. Coronavirus won’t discriminate between those eligible for sick pay and people who simply cannot afford to fall unwell.

"We know this is something front of mind for millions of people who could face the impossible choice of working while ill or ignoring guidance to self-isolate.

"The Chancellor must set out plans to broaden the pool of people eligible for statutory sick pay and ensure that the benefits system can respond flexibly to those who need it. Otherwise millions could fall through the gaps."

The Government has said that no universal credit claimants will be sanctioned in the event of a self isolation period.

If you're already claiming Universal Credit and think you may have been affected by coronavirus, contact your work coach as soon as possible via your online journal, or by calling the universal credit helpline.

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