‘Now is not the right time to introduce changes to the sick pay system’ a government paper on workplace absences declared this week. It beggars belief.
This is exactly the moment ministers need to take serious decisions on sick pay. A time when millions of people are off work, either ill with Covid-19 themselves, at home looking after children sent home from school or self-isolating to protect society, is the obvious time to act.
The ministerial announcement this week was in response to a consultation the government held two years ago, well before the pandemic even started. It has been a long wait to hear that nothing new will happen.
That is especially true because the ideas the government presented in 2019 and have now shelved were actually pretty modest. The most important was a plan to extend the right to sick pay to low-paid, part-time workers with jobs paying under £120 per week.
Furlough will comes to an end soon but it needs a worthy successor. The government should change its mind and accept the case for reforming sick payAndrew Harrop, Fabien Society general secretaryAndrew Harrop, Fabien Society general secretary
The idea was proposed by the Taylor Commission on modern working practices back in 2017. It had support from businesses and trade unions, and the government had previously sounded keen. If ministers can’t even make such a modest and consensual change to sickness payments, how will they ever go further?
The reality is that statutory sick pay needs a complete overhaul. When the pandemic descended and sickness-related absences spiked, huge numbers of people discovered there were only entitled to £95 per week in place of their usual wages. Many employers provide more sick pay out of choice. But for around one third of employees, usually in low paid jobs, the statutory minimum sick pay is all they get.