Sir Robert Buckland MP and Jonathan Gullis MP Write for The Times.
A higher weekly statutory sum would put Britain in line with other countries.
Picture the scene. You’re commuting to work. You slip on some icy steps and break several bones. The doctor at the hospital puts you on heavy-duty painkillers and advises you’ll need an operation and several weeks off to recover. You look up your workplace’s sick pay policy and find that you only get statutory sick pay (SSP), just £109 a week. Against the doctor’s advice, you return to work early, the stitches still fresh and your injuries unhealed.
This was just one experience we have heard, along with fellow MPs, scrutinising the United Kingdom’s sick pay arrangements. Many of us expect that, when we need it, sick pay will cover us for at least some of the time we need to recover. But about one third of workers, often in demanding manual work or in frontline roles like nursing, get just £109 a week SSP paid from day four of absence.
This leaves people with a dilemma. They might return to work early as they cannot afford to be off, spreading contagious bugs. They could take time off but will quickly fall into financial stress and debt.
That is why we are delighted to see the Times Health Commission recommend sick pay reform as a measure to boost Britain’s health and prosperity. As the commission explains, a salutary improvement would be scrapping the current three unpaid waiting days, along with the earnings limit at which SSP is paid. This would minimise the transmission of disease, reduce periods of prolonged absence and improve mental health in the workplace.
As champions of the Safe Sick Pay campaign, we were joined by business groups last week to argue that reforms should also look at levels of sick pay. A higher weekly amount would put us in step with international peers and ensure thousands of people who experience a more serious illness can remain connected to an employer while recovering, rather than having to rely on out-of-work benefits.
Reform has been a long time coming. The government review Health is Everyone’s Business recommended changes in 2019. Five years on, sick pay is still under review. When a health commission, business groups, trade unions and economists all say the UK could do better, it is surely time to act. We hope this will prompt the prime minister to offer hard-working people the support they need when they fall ill.
Sir Robert Buckland is MP for South Swindon; Jonathan Gullis is MP for Stoke-on-Trent North