Reducing the Covid-19 isolation period will not ‘fix the UK’s fundamental sick pay problem’, the TUC has warned today, as the government policy to reduce isolation from seven days to five comes into effect.

The NHS, however, has supported the reduction of isolating days saying it will help ease the pressure on its staff.

But the TUC says the self isolation system will fail, since ‘without decent sick pay’, employees face an “impossible choice”. 

Lat week, HRreview reported that IKEA and Wessex Water had decided to cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff to the government mandated minimum of £96.35 a week. Since then Next and Ocado have done the same. The union said the moves were not the way to get staff vaccinated.

According to its analysis, published today, the UK has the least generous statutory sick pay in Europe. It is around 15 percent of average earnings, compared to an OECD average of over 60 per cent. The TUC reminds us that it is only available to employees earning £120 per week or more – meaning two million workers nationwide, mostly women, do not qualify.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Unions have been encouraging everyone to get vaccinated and boosted. But cutting sick pay is no way to encourage workers to get the jab. And it would be an own goal for public health too, risking further transmission of the virus.”

New analysis

Today the TUC has published an analysis which estimates around a quarter of a million private sector workers (267,800) were self-isolating without decent sick pay or any sick pay at all in mid-December (13 to 26 December). Around 209,900 workers had to rely on statutory sick pay, which is too low to meet basic living costs, and 57,900 got  no sick pay at all.

The TUC has branded the huge numbers “a serious public health failure.”

The analysis is based on new ONS data which estimates that 2.7 per cent of the private sector workforce – around 723,900 workers – were off work with Covid-19 from 13 to 26 December as the Omicron variant swept across the country.

According to TUC polling conducted by Britain Thinks, around three in 10 private sector workers rely on statutory sick pay, and just under one in 10 get nothing – leaving over a third of private sector workers without decent sick pay or any sick pay at all.

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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 that was exactly the choice facing a quarter of a million private sector workers last month, as the Omicron variant raged across the country. This is a serious public health failure. 

“It beggars belief that two years into the pandemic, statutory sick pay is still too little to live on and two million workers can’t get any sick pay at all. 

“Ministers can’t continue to turn a blind eye to this vital public health tool. We need decent sick pay – paid at the real Living Wage – available to everyone.”