Govt proposes sick pay for lowest earners

The government yesterday (15 July 2019) launched a consultation into new proposals the Departments of Work and Pensions and Health claim will help people with long-term illnesses stay in work.

16 Jul 2019| News

Currently, people who fall below the Lower Earnings Limit (£118 a week) – around two million workers – are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, but the government is now considering extending this right so they may benefit from it.

Small businesses would also be offered support to manage sick leave via a sick pay rebate for those who “effectively manage employees on sick leave”, such as by providing adjustments to the workplace to help their worker stay in their jobs and keeping in touch with those who are on leave. Further, there are proposals to make it easier for small employers to invest in occupational health services.

The government is also consulting on extending the right to request reasonable adjustments on health grounds to those who do not currently meet the definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010.

People in insecure or low-pay work could also be provided with the right to a phased return to their jobs after a period of sickness.

Around 100,000 people leave their jobs every year after a period of sickness absence lasting four weeks or longer, and almost half of those who are off for year fall out of employment. The government’s consultation also noted that workers are often unnecessarily dismissed on health grounds before everything has been done to help them back to work.

While the Institute of Employment Rights welcomes any move to extend fundamental rights such as statutory sick pay to more workers, if the government’s proposals are not strengthened they risk becoming a sticking plaster over a gaping wound.

The need for reform – in the government’s eyes – has been driven by an explosion in insecure work, which means more people are trapped beneath the Lower Earnings Limit or have access to fewer statutory rights.

Instead of simply extending some of the most basic rights to these workers, the government must look at ways to provide secure work.

In the IER’s Manifesto for Labour Law, 26 lawyers and academics recommend scrapping today’s hierarchical approach to workers’ rights (in which those in insecure jobs have less protection than those in more secure ones) and replacing it with a universal suite of day one rights for everyone in employment.

Among these rights should be a universal entitlement to statutory sick pay, but importantly this should be paid at a rate closer to the worker’s normal wage. Currently, many private sector workers receive just 89.35 a week.

Further, to protect against the poverty trap of insecure work, all workers should have a right to guaranteed hours and a living wage.