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Fury as Covid sick pay cut impacts low income workers

Written by: Emma Lunn
GMB Union has warned that forcing low paid workers to go to work after testing positive for Covid-19 will prolong the pandemic.

Brits who test positive for Covid will no longer be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP) of £96.35 a week from day one of their illness from 24 March. Instead, they will have to wait until day four of being off work before they can claim SSP. The move is likely to mean that low income workers who test positive for Covid attend work, because they can’t afford not to, and the virus will continue to spread.

Emergency coronavirus plans introduced in March 2020 meant that anyone off sick with Covid could claim SSP from day one instead of day four of illness. But the enhanced sick pay rules are being scrapped as part of the UK government’s “living with Covid” plan announced yesterday.

The £500 self-isolation support payment will also end, as will the medicine delivery service. The government introduced the self-isolation payment in September 2020 for people told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace but unable to work from home.

GMB Union described the announcement as “nonsensical” and said it would guarantee workers will attend the workplace with Covid.

Dan Shears, GMB national health and safety director, said: “This will prolong the pandemic with more outbreaks. Asking people to exercise responsibility whilst taking away a key workplace provision for them to do that just shows how incompetent this government is.

“The UK’s poverty statutory sick pay rates, among the lowest in Europe, are a public health hazard as workers cannot afford to stay home when they are ill. The situation will be made even worse in April when SSP is cut in real terms against a backdrop of rampant inflation.

“Restoring the three-day limit is an act of national self-sabotage. It’s time for wholesale reform of statutory sick pay rate.”

Unions have repeatedly warned that SSP is inadequate during the pandemic. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said in December the payment was failing to keep pace with the rising cost of living. It also pointed out that 647,000 workers in hospitality, retail, and arts and entertainment don’t qualify for SSP.

The government’s “living with Covid” plan will see domestic legal restrictions ending this Thursday (24 February), with Covid being treated like other infectious diseases such as flu. The legal requirement to self-isolate on a positive test will end, although until 1 April people who test positive are still being advised to stay at home for five days.

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