Covid inquiry must take ‘unflinching look at Britain’s broken sick pay system’.

Pandemic showed that "British labour law is not fit for purpose."

2 Jun 2023| News

An upcoming public inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic must take an “unflinching look at Britain’s broken sick pay system,” the TUC has said.

The union body noted that the country entered the health emergency in 2020 with the lowest rate of statutory sick pay among wealthier nations, with millions “unable to access it.”

Workers faced a “financial cliff edge” if they fell ill, with a quarter having to rely on the essential payments, rising to almost a third of the lowest-paid, the TUC said.

The weekly payments, which currently amount to just £94 and are only available to contracted workers making a pre-tax minimum of £123 a week, “undermined the country’s preparedness and ability to deal with the pandemic.”

The virus has killed more than 226,000 people across Britain and Northern Ireland, according to the government’s own figures.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak urged the inquiry, which is set for its first public hearing on June 13, to include sick pay as a key consideration.

He said:

“The failure to provide proper financial support was an act of self-sabotage that left millions brutally exposed to the pandemic.

Many workers simply couldn’t afford to self-isolate. This pushed up infection rates, put a huge strain on our public services and ballooned the cost of Test and Trace.”

The taxpayer funded service, run by the UK Health Security Agency, was tasked with monitoring the disease and helping to prevent its spread.

The government could have boosted sick pay and made sure everyone could get it, but ministers chose not to. As a result, Britain entered the pandemic with the most miserly rate of sick pay in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [area] — this cost us dear.”

The inquiry, commissioned by disgraced ex-prime minister Boris Johnson in May 2021, is being chaired by retired judge and cross-bench peer Baroness Heather Hallett.

Professor Keith Ewing, president of union think tank the Institute of Employment Rights, said:

“It has been obvious since long before the pandemic that British labour law is not fit for purpose.

It is not just statutory sick pay — the problems are endemic. But as far as Covid is concerned, it revealed first the exploitation of critical workers, second the failure generally to make adequate provision for income security and third the lack of proper provision relating to health and safety at work.”

This article was first published in the Morning Star. We thank them for their kind permission to reproduce it here.