The ordinary worker on statutory ill pay would receive 25% of the income needed to live a decent life.
Despite its seaside attractions, Margate in Kent is one of the most impoverished regions in the United Kingdom. As a result of the rising cost of living, many families struggle to make ends meet.
As Kyra Lloyd, a 25-year-old shop assistant, discovered when she developed excruciating ankle pain and was rendered unable to stand due to her illness, falling ill can result in a precipitous plunge into destitution.
“I began getting some very horrible, horrible pains. My foot was so distended that I was unable to move.”
Doctors informed Kyra that the metalwork holding her bones together since a childhood fracture had broken and that if she did not undergo surgery, she could wind up in a wheelchair permanently.
During the lengthy delay for treatment, she was placed on unpaid leave. However, statutory sick pay scarcely covered half of her rent, not to mention any other living expenses.
“I’m now in so much debt because of it,” she explains.
“I am approximately £3,000 in debt due to borrowing from others and taking out loans because I could not afford to survive. I was unable to pay my rent. It simply is not enough”.
It’s humiliating to ask people for money when you can’t afford to feed.
“I ate only gravy and bread for dinner because I couldn’t afford anything else – the choice was between food and shelter. Nobody should be forced to choose.
Even mundane tasks such as washing your clothing… Due to electricity costs, I had to wash them in the bathtub. It is so challenging. It is not proper.”
Kyra is currently recovering and has new employment, but she is constantly concerned that the pain will return.
“Every time I sense a minor ache in my foot, I think: I can’t afford to go back on sick leave, and I can’t afford another surgery. It’s an enormous burden.”
Christopher Balmont, 57, has been a restaurant’s executive chef for over a decade. Because she cares for their daughter, who has special educational requirements, she is unable to work.
This week, he was placed on leave due to melancholy and anxiety. Statutory sick pay covers only 25% of his salary, and the stress of paying his bills is aggravating his illness.
“I don’t sleep, I’m anxious most of the time, and this makes me feel even more anxious,” he says.
“I am concerned about the entire circumstance and the amount you will receive. And I had anticipated that there would be more. I’ve never had to claim it before, so it’s a bit of a surprise. And I had no alternative. If I had the option, I would be at work.
Not only do I suffer from my illness, but so does my entire family.
A third of employees receive the required minimum in sick pay, while half receive more.
What is mandatory medical leave and how does it function?
Currently, statutory ill pay is £109.40 per week, which is roughly a third of the minimum wage.
It is not paid until the fourth consecutive day of illness. During the COVID-19 pandemic, staff received support on the first day of illness, but that ended last year.
Your employer is not required to pay if your average weekly earnings are below £123.
This means that two million of the lowest-paid workers in the country receive no sick pay at all, a situation that disproportionately affects those in jobs such as cleaning, caregiving, and security, where zero-hours contracts are prevalent and employees frequently work shifts for multiple employers. Self-employed individuals are also not covered.
The administration promised to increase mandatory sick pay to all low-income workers in 2019.
In the subsequent public consultation, 75% of respondents supported the concept, including both large and small employers. During the pandemic, however, this promise was broken.
Investigation into minimum income standards
In light of his research on minimum income standards, Matt Padley of Loughborough University’s Center for research in social policy has calculated the impact of falling unwell and relying on statutory sick pay.
He and his team generate the annual minimum income standard calculation, which determines the weekly budget required by households in the United Kingdom to maintain a socially acceptable standard of living.
In 2022, a single person residing outside of London spent £489.20 per week.
Statutory sick pay is 25% below the minimal threshold.
In the first week of a patient’s illness, payment does not commence until the fourth day.
A single adult earning £630 per week would lose £1,230 in one month and £3,862 in three months.
“Without any other support from the state, all workers receiving statutory sick pay or no sick pay would fall well short of what they need for a minimum socially acceptable standard of living,” says Mr. Padley.
This represents more than 12 million individuals.
People are coerced into the welfare system.
Safe Sick Pay, a coalition of charities and trade unions, is requesting that statutory sick pay be increased in line with the minimum wage, that all workers be covered, and that payments commence on the first day of illness.
“Currently, if these workers become ill, they must either go to work sick, worsening their condition and possibly infecting others, or they must stay at home and do the right thing, but then they cannot pay their bills,” says campaign director Amanda Walters.
She claims that low statutory ill-pay rates push people to use the welfare system, which provides more support.
“If you fall ill and only receive the legal minimum sick pay, you will soon leave the workforce and begin receiving benefits and universal credit. And the longer you receive universal credit, the more difficult it becomes to return to the workforce.
“Therefore, we want to see a relationship between those who are ill and their employers, who should not force them to receive universal credit.
“Many of these individuals want to continue working. They do not wish to participate in universal credit. Moreover, the current system costs the taxpayer £55 billion.”
Reform of sick compensation is long overdue.
In March, the chancellor’s “Back to Work” budget highlighted the importance of encouraging individuals to return to work after a period of long-term sickness.
However, statutory ill pay was not mentioned, and some senior Tories, such as former cabinet minister Sir Robert Buckland, argue that sick pay reform must be incorporated into the strategy.
“Now is the time to act,” he declares.
“We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of individuals who, through no fault of their own, may become ill and end up being out of work longer due to the disincentives caused by the current inaccessibility of statutory sick pay”.
A variety of measures are required to combat economic inactivity and low productivity. And I believe that reform to eliminate sick pay is long delayed.
“A double win for employers”
It is not only a compassionate but also a practical choice. This decision is business-friendly. It is an approach that increases productivity.
“It’s a win-win for employers, as there is currently a disincentive to report any illness, which can contribute to additional issues in the future. And frequently, longer-term absences are catastrophic for small employers, who are severely impacted by this.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Employment and Pensions stated that the government has a “strong track record” of getting people off of welfare and back to employment and that the number of economically inactive individuals is decreasing.
They added, “We are implementing a variety of initiatives to help people with disabilities and health conditions not only find work but also keep it and succeed.”