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Eurofound's COVID-19 EU PolicyWatch collates information on the responses of government and social partners to the crisis, as well as gathering examples of company practices aimed at mitigating the social and economic impacts.

Factsheet for case GB-2020-11/586 Updated – measures in United Kingdom

Changes to statutory sick pay (SSP)

Changes to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

Country United Kingdom , applies nationwide
Time period Open ended, started on 13 March 2020
Type Legislations or other statutory regulations
Category Income protection beyond short-time work
– Paid sick leave
Author Claire Evans (Warwick University) and Eurofound
Case created 14 April 2020 (updated 21 July 2020)

Background information

On the 17 March, the Chancellor announced a package of government-backed and guaranteed loans to support businesses, making available an initial GBP 330 billion of guarantees – equivalent to 15% of GDP. This was on top of a series of measures announced at Budget 2020 on the 12 March, where the government announced GBP 30 billion of additional support for public services, individuals and businesses experiencing financial difficulties because of COVID-19. 

Changes to SSP were part of the initial Budget package, subsequently extended on the 17 March, and accounted for in Sections 39 to 44 of the Coronavirus Act 2020. Section 40 amends the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992.  Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, the changes in SSP will be back-dated to 13th of March.

Content of measure

In order to traditionally qualify for SSP (currently £94.25 and payable by employers for a maximum of 28 weeks), there is a wait of three days before an individual employee becomes eligible. However, under the new ruling, SSP will be paid from day 1, rather than day 4 of an individual's absence from work if that person is absent from work due to sickness or the need to self-isolate caused by COVID-19. This applied retrospectively from the 13th of March. 

Moreover, from the 20th of March onwards, those who have COVID-19 or who are advised to self-isolate will be able to obtain an “isolation note” by visiting the National Health Service (NHS) 111 online and completing an online form, rather than visiting a doctor. For COVID-19 cases, this replaces the usual need to provide a “fit note” after seven days of sickness absence.

For those not eligible for SSP e.g. the self-employed or those earning below the Lower Earnings Limit of GBP 118 per week, but who have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate, the government says that they can now more easily make a claim for Universal Credit (UC) or new style Employment and Support Allowance.

For those who are self-employed and receiving Universal Credit with COVID-19 or advised to self-isolate, the requirements of the Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed. This change took effect on 13 March and will last for the duration of the outbreak, to ensure that self-employed UC claimants will receive support.

Updates

The following updates to this measure have been made after it came into effect.

28 May 2020

The changes to statutory sick pay as a result of the coronavirus pandemic were further extended to encompass people in the following two categories:

  1. From the 16 April 2020, regulations were passed so that any person classed as extremely vulnerable and at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19), and who have been advised to remain at home for at least 12 weeks will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). The process is known as shielding, and the regulations mean that people are deemed as incapable of work for the period in which they are shielding.

There are around 1.5 million "extremely vulnerable" persons in the UK, who were directed to shield for at least 12 weeks. However, 'shielding' is to end on the 1 August, with those who have been shielding being able to return to work. Thus, those who are shielding will continue to be eligible for SSP until 31 July, but this ends on the 1st of August (UK Government, 2020).

If an individual cannot work as they are shielding due to coronavirus (COVID-19), then they will be entitled to receive SSP for every day that they are unable to work. They will be entitled to SSP from day one of sickness, in line with how SSP will be paid to those self-isolating, or absent, due to coronavirus. Individuals must, however, shield for a minimum of four days to be eligible for SSP payment from day one. Individuals must also meet the other eligibility requirements for SSP.

The changes have been made, as previously those individuals who were shielding were not entitled to SSP, and the amendments are intended as a safety net for individuals in cases where their employer opts not to furlough them under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and does not have other suitable policies in place, e.g. allowing the individuals to work from home.

  1. On the 28th of May, those who have been told by NHS Test and Trace that they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. This requires 14 days' self-isolation, but this period is superseded or extended by the seven day self-isolation rule if the person develops symptoms (UK Government, 2020).

Use of measure

Target groups

Workers Businesses Citizens
Employees in standard employment
Does not apply to businesses Does not apply to citizens

Actors and funding

Actors Funding
National government
National funds

Social partners

Social partners' role in designing the measure and form of involvement:

Trade unions Employers' organisations
Role Informed Informed
Form Not applicable Not applicable

Social partners' role in the implementation, monitoring and assessment phase:

  • No involvement
  • Main level of involvement: Peak or cross-sectoral level

Involvement

The social partners were informed as to the raft of measures to be introduced at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic; however, they were not formally involved in the design, implementation or monitoring of this measure.

Views and reactions

The Chancellor is reported to have met and worked with trade unions and business groups, in order to support peoples' financial security. There is evidence on Hansard (official record of proceedings in Parliament) that the  Chancellor 'spoke to the trade unions' on the 18th of March and on the 19th of March, he met with the TUC, the CBI, the BCC and the FSB. This was done with a view to urgently developing new forms of employment support to help protect people’s jobs and incomes through this period (see https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2020-03-19/debates/8B1662BD-F065-4731-AA48-5BA21424C2D0/Covid-19EmploymentSupport). There are no explicit details of discussion.

Previously, the TUC had called for changes to the SSP system. On the 18th of March, the TUC stated that the sick pay system is 'broken', stating that at a maximum of £94.25 per week, Statutory sick pay (SSP) is not enough to live on. The TUC further averred that the average worker earns £512 per week, so for the estimated 7 million people who may come to rely on SSP, any time off work will constitute 'a large income shock.'

The TUC also pointed out that many people aren’t eligible for SSP, as approximately 2 million people do not qualify for such payments due to the fact that they do not meet the lower earnings limit of £118 per week. The TUC criticised the Chancellor for not extending eligibility for sick pay to these lower earners; he instead pointed them to the benefit system. He has announced minor improvements to the way the benefit system operates, but the TUC is still critical that the system will fail to provide appropriate support, mainly due to the five-week wait for first payment and the low level of benefits then provided (Employment and Support Allowance is just £73.10).

The TUC thus called on the government to remove the lower earnings limit for qualification for sick pay. It also urged the government to immediately increase the weekly level of SSP (£94.25) to at least the equivalent of a week’s pay at the Real Living Wage, as well as to end the five-week wait for benefits (see https://www.tuc.org.uk/blogs/coronavirus-help-what-workers-need-now).

Sources

  • 20 March 2020: HM Treasury 'How to access government financial support if you or your business has been affected by COVID-19 (assets.publishing.service.gov.uk)
  • 25 March 2020: Coronavirus Act 2020 (www.legislation.gov.uk)
  • 07 July 2020: UK Government (2020) Guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19 (www.gov.uk)
  • 07 July 2020: HM Government (2020) 'Guidance NHS test and trace: how it works.' (www.gov.uk)

Citation

Eurofound (2020), Changes to statutory sick pay (SSP), case GB-2020-11/586 (measures in United Kingdom), COVID-19 EU PolicyWatch, Dublin, http://eurofound.link/covid19eupolicywatch

Disclaimer: This information has not been subject to the full Eurofound evaluation, editorial and publication process. All information is preliminary and subject to change.