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When will we realise that without sick pay the ill must work?

Torsten Bell
·1 min read
<span>Photograph: Guy Smallman/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Guy Smallman/Getty Images

We need people who have – or might have – the coronavirus to stay at home to protect others’ lives. The government’s job is to protect their livelihoods so they’re able to do so. That’s why decent sick pay is so essential in a pandemic.

Unfortunately, the UK came into this crisis firmly at the bottom of the international statutory sick pay league table; 2 million low earners don’t qualify at all. Even those qualifying only get £96 a week, just a quarter of their earnings on average. The government recognised, but didn’t solve these problems, by ensuring people get sick pay more quickly as well as if they need to isolate but aren’t ill. A new £500 track-and-trace support payment was also introduced, but only one in eight workers qualify.

The world of research has warned us repeatedly to deal with this problem. Back in July we learned that care homes paying sick pay were significantly less likely to have Covid cases. Last week, a deep dive into the experiences of US states showed that those introducing sick pay saw huge (up to 30%) reductions in seasonal flu cases, proving that people will do the right thing and stay home if they can afford to do it.

Last March, I didn’t think it was possible we’d get a year through this pandemic without sorting out the UK’s inadequate sick pay system. It turns out I was wrong, providing another reminder that just because a problem is blindingly obvious doesn’t mean it’ll get fixed.

• Torsten Bell is chief executive of the Resolution Foundation. Read more at resolutionfoundation.org