No increase in sick pay for coronavirus victims - despite £7bn package of support

PUBLISHED: 18:03 20 March 2020 | UPDATED: 18:38 20 March 2020

A screen-grab of Prime Minister Boris Johnson (centre), Chancellor Rishi Sunak (left) and Dr Jenny Harries (right) speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). PA Photo. Picture date: Friday March 20, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: PA Video/PA Wire

A screen-grab of Prime Minister Boris Johnson (centre), Chancellor Rishi Sunak (left) and Dr Jenny Harries (right) speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). PA Photo. Picture date: Friday March 20, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: PA Video/PA Wire

The chancellor has resisted widespread calls to increase statutory sick pay (SSP) to help support anyone who is sick or self-isolating during the coronavirus outbreak.

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Rishi Sunak unveiled an “unprecedented” raft of measures on Friday that included a £7 billion boost to the welfare system and a job protection scheme.

But he declined to boost the £94.25-a-week payment, a day after health secretary Matt Hancock said he would not be able to live on such a small sum.

Snak also did not widen the group of people who are eligible for the payments, with two million estimated to not be entitled.

There are fears workers may not self-isolate with Covid-19 symptoms to halt the spread because they do not want to take the financial blow of lost wages.

Since the outbreak began, the government has made sure SSP is paid from the first day of illness rather than the fourth, but the sum has come under fresh scrutiny over whether it is sufficient.

There are calls for more to be done for the self-employed and private renters, as well as those on sick pay following the £7 billion package of support.

John McDonnell MP, Labour’s shadow chancellor said: “The chancellor has shifted direction but unfortunately not far enough or fast enough.

“The government must give people the economic security to stay at home by lifting the level of Statutory Sick Pay, but it appears that the government hasn’t done that today. Sick pay is being left at a level that the health secretary said he could not live on, yet this is what the self-employed are being asked to get by on.


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“The chancellor’s wage protection plan sets out no obligation for employers to keep staff on, and no commitment to full wages being paid, with the cap on incomes meaning that many people will take a significant pay cut.

“This will also take some weeks to roll out at a time when wages need to be guaranteed more urgently.

“Other benefits, including for carers, are not being lifted adequately.

“The chancellor said he would do whatever it takes, but he can and should go further - and we will keep working constructively with government to ensure the best possible response to the Coronavirus crisis.”

Acting Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said: “The government’s actions today show just how threatening coronavirus is to our economy and our society.

“Whilst the package for employees is welcome, Liberal Democrats are worried that far too little is being done for the self-employed, for those on zero hours’ contracts or for those on statutory sick pay and benefits.

“The chancellor should raise the level of statutory sick pay and extend it to the two million people earning less than £118 a week that are currently excluded. It is also vital that the charities and not for profit organisations who do so much to care for so many are not forgotten during this crisis.

“By guaranteeing 80% of income not just for workers but also the self-employed, boosting sick pay to £220 a week for everyone, and increasing out of work benefits, the government would in effect create a temporary Citizen’s Income. This would send a strong signal that we care for everyone in our society.”

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