New research highlights the potential flaws with Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), revealing that care workers in the UK are resorting to using their annual leave when sick with the coronavirus. 

Some care workers in the UK are using their annual leave when they are sick with COVID-19, claiming that the Statutory Sick Pay is not enough to cover time off.

Currently, SSP gives employees who have to take time off for illness £95.85 a week. Previous research conducted by the Trades Union Congress found that this is roughly one-fifth of average weekly earnings for most workers.

As it stands, employers legally must pay the statutory amount to people who are ill. However, guidance from the Government states that care workers should be paid in full in order to prevent employees coming into work when they are ill, thus potentially spreading the virus to a high-risk group.

However, Unison, a trade union which represents care workers, has found that some care workers are only receiving the minimum of SSP, forcing workers to use annual leave when sick in order to continue to receive their full wage.

Gavin Edwards, a Senior National Officer at Unison, said:

Almost a year into the pandemic, many care workers are having to survive on less than £100 a week should they fall ill or need to isolate.

Low-paid staff shouldn’t be losing money they can ill afford when they’re poorly or stopping home to avoid spreading the virus. The system isn’t working. Every care worker who has to be off work during the pandemic must be paid their wages in full.

This raises significant questions about SSP and whether it adequately supports employees enough.

Previous research conducted by the TUC in September 2020 found the average worker self-isolating for two weeks on SSP would lose over £800 across this period. In addition, almost half of workers surveyed (43 per cent) stated they would have to go into debt or not pay bills if they were on SSP for two weeks.

The survey also found that people who are on low or average incomes are most likely to receive SSP alone and not their normal pay when sick.

Whilst three-quarters of people who have been able to work from home during the pandemic receive their usual pay when sick, this number falls under a half for workers who are not able to work from home.

In addition, the TUC highlighted that almost 1.8 million employees are excluded from receiving SSP entirely due to the fact that eligibility for Statutory Sick Pay is defined by whether the worker earns over £120 a week.

The TUC warned that SSP must be increased to a week’s living wage – £326 – and be made available for all. It highlights that otherwise employees who need to self-isolate will have to choose between going to work with symptoms or falling into debt.

This was echoed by one of the care workers interviewed by the Guardian, who stated:

You have a lot of women whose partners have lost their jobs so they really can’t afford not to come in. There are people who don’t want to work because they are scared, but they can’t afford not to.

The Resolution Foundation also suggested that employers should be able to use the Job Retention Scheme for workers who are ill with the virus or need to self-isolate, which would allow staff to receive 80 per cent of their previous earnings. They also echoed the TUC’s call to make SSP available to all.