Raise Sick Pay, Stop the Virus

The “stay at home” message won’t stick unless people can be supported to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads, and ensure their home is well heated. The financial plan for this lockdown is as important as the public health messaging – and the government needs to start with an increase to Statutory Sick Pay.

Boris Johnson’s address to the nation on Monday struck many with an uneasy sense of déjà vu. Almost a year on since China gave the world the genetic data on Coronavirus, and warned nations of its deadly effects, the U.K seems to have moved nowhere. While the likes of New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Korea return to some form of normality, we are back into a third national lockdown, still without our ‘world-beating’ track and trace app and with no idea as to whether the NHS will cope in the coming months.

What was eerily similar in the PM’s announcement was the lack of a financial plan of how he expects people to stay at home whilst also meeting their household bills. Whilst furlough is set to stay for the foreseeable future, this is only available to some—and even then, 80% of your pay doesn’t pay for 100% of the rent, utilities bills, council tax, and the weekly food shop.

Since the start of this crisis it has been clear what is needed: those that are unwell or have come into contact with those that are unwell/tested positive need to receive adequate payment to stay at home. Simply put, our current Statutory Sick Pay rate does not do that – as seen below via the TUC’s Twitter page.

Whilst you can call on people’s civic duty to stay at home if they may think they have the virus, that won’t put food on the table. The average monthly rent for a one-bed flat in Worcester is £553, Council Tax in Band A is at £100.72… are you starting to see how far £408.41 a month in sick pay goes? People who are feeling well and without symptoms will feel they simply have no option other than to go out and work to ensure they can provide for their family. I spoke to the Chair of the local Herefordshire and Worcestershire Branch of Unite the Union, Daniel Hall, about the government’s failure regarding sick pay:

“The coronavirus pandemic shows just how important it is that when we get sick we should be able to take time off work, not only to give ourselves time to recover but also to protect those around us.

We know we have a legal right to call in sick but unless workers are also given the financial ability to do so then it means nothing.

It is an absolute necessity that statutory sick pay is permanently and significantly increased. A nation as wealthy as ours can afford to support its citizens when they fall ill, and it is essential it does so!”

This goes hand-in-hand with the Government’s failure to confirm whether they will be keeping the £20 increase in Universal Credit past 2021, the failure to update any of the UK’s legacy benefits, and the complete lack of support for renters. None of these points came up in the Chancellor’s announcements on Tuesday, which outline only support for businesses and no further assistance to workers. You simply can’t fight a pandemic on the cheap.

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