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Broken sick pay system to ruin Christmas for thousands

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Analysis by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) shows that 647,000 workers in hospitality, retail, and arts and entertainment don’t qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP).

The union body is calling for universal sick pay worth at least the real Living Wage. It warned that with new tougher self-isolation rules, these workers are at risk of being left with no work and no income over the Christmas period.

The new rules, introduced as a consequence of the Omicron variant, require anyone coming into contact with a confirmed Omicron case to self-isolate for 10 days, even if they have been vaccinated.

But hundreds of thousands of festive workers, who are most likely to come in contact with people over the busy festive period, receive no sick pay while self-isolating, and could face drastic cuts to their livelihoods over Christmas.

The total includes 238,000 hospitality workers, 336,000 retail workers, and 73,000 arts and entertainment workers.

The only other sector of the economy with a higher proportion of workers who do not qualify for statutory sick pay is those employed by households – e.g. for example domestic cleaners.

The TUC says the UK has the least generous statutory sick pay in Europe, worth just £96.35 per week. And it is only available to employees earning £120 per week or more. This leaves about a third of workers – more than 10 million people – with sick pay that is too low to meet basic living costs, or no sick pay at all.

The government introduced a temporary scheme last year to assist people who face hardship if required to self-isolate. However, TUC research has found that two-thirds of applications (64%) are rejected – in part because the funding is too low, and many workers are not aware of it.

The TUC is calling on the government to extend statutory sick pay protection to every worker by removing the lower earnings limit. It also wants the government to increase statutory sick pay to at least the value of the real Living Wage which is £346 a week.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Every worker should have the security of sick pay if they fall ill or need to isolate. But while we’re out celebrating and buying presents, many workers who make that possible get no sick pay protection at all.

“Our sick pay system is broken. No one should be left to choose between doing the right thing or putting food on the table. And we all risk having our Christmas ruined because our sick pay system doesn’t do what’s needed to stop the virus spreading.

“Ministers must extend sick pay protection to every worker. And it should worth at least the same as the Living Wage to make sure people can afford to isolate.”