The Trades Union Congress and Federation of Small Businesses made a rare joint appeal to Chancellor Rishi Sunak to help lowest paid workers
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Sick pay should be widened so more workers benefit, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been warned.
In a rare joint intervention, the Trades Union Congress and Federation of Small Businesses urged the Cabinet Minister to “create an effective sick pay system to underpin the economic recovery”.
Rules mean statutory sick pay, currently £96.35 a week, is only available to employees earning £120 per week or more – leaving two million low-paid workers, mostly women, without any sick pay at all.
The demand comes as Boris Johnson prepares to outline the Government’s plan for “living with Covid” on Monday.
He is expected to scrap laws forcing people to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus.
A letter from TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and FSB boss Martin McTague calls on the Chancellor to “ensure that all workers that need access to sick pay would receive it regardless of earnings, and make sure that all employers would be able to afford it”.
Ms O’Grady said: “No one should be forced to choose between doing the right thing and self-isolating or putting food on the table.
“But millions of low-paid workers have faced this impossible choice.
“Two years into the pandemic, it’s time ministers stopped turning a blind eye to this obvious problem and fixed our broken sick pay system.
“Delivering sick pay for all would be an important first step.”
Mr McTague said: “Small business owners are struggling to find £5billion a year for sick pay costs.
“Last year, the Chancellor responded to our calls for help with a reintroduction of the small employer sick pay rebate until the end of March.
“However, with inflation driving up business costs – and forthcoming NICs hikes increasing the tax burden on them to a level not seen since the 1950s – there could not be a worse time to remove the rebate.”
Shopworkers’ union Usdaw said “being ill has a huge financial impact on low-paid workers, as too many are forced to live on statutory sick pay”.
General secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Trade unions secured SSP from day one for Covid absences during the pandemic.
“This must continue and be extended to all sickness absences, along with sick pay reflecting average pay and being available to all workers.”
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Learning to live with Covid is not the same as ignoring it and weakening statutory sick pay would be utterly irresponsible – forcing low-paid people to make choices between their health and putting food on the table.
“Labour fought for the security of sick pay from day one from ministers when negotiating the original Covid Act two years ago.
“But even this concession – important though it was – is not enough; we still need decent sick pay for all.
“Weakening statutory sick pay now would prove once again that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are not on the side of working people.”
A Government spokesman said: “We understand how important sick pay has been for small businesses and employees during the pandemic, which is why employers with up to 250 staff can be reimbursed the cost of up to a fortnight’s statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences.
“There is a package of financial support in place for workers who need to self-isolate.
“To date, the Government has released £344m to local authorities to fund £500 support payments for those on the lowest incomes who need to self-isolate.”