Solidarity is backing calls to increase Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and ensure everyone is eligible for it.
The calls from many unions follow a poll showing that more than 4 in 10 workers would be plunged into financial hardship if forced to self-isolate for two weeks on SSP.
The new survey - carried out for the TUC by BritainThinks – shows that two-fifths (43%) of workers would be unable to pay their bills if they must survive on £96 a week – the current rate of SSP.
For low-income workers (those earning below £15,000) the number unable to survive for two weeks on SSP rises to 5 in 10 (50%). And for those earning below £29,000 it rises to a similar number (47%).
Nearly a quarter (23%) of those surveyed said they receive only the basic SSP if they are off work sick.
When asked to select their three top priorities for improving work, increasing the level of sick pay was the third highest priority, beaten only by raising the national minimum wage to £10 an hour and banning zero-hour contracts.
The TUC says the findings highlight how many workers will be left without a financial “safety net” in the event of a second wave of infections or a spate of local lockdowns.
The weekly rate for SSP is just £95.85 in the UK - one of the lowest rates in Europe. And nearly two million people miss out on receiving sick pay altogether because they do not meet the lower earnings limit.
Most of these are women. And those receiving statutory maternity, paternity, adoption, or additional paternity pay are currently not eligible to receive SSP. The self-employed are also excluded.
The union body says the recent introduction of a payment for those on certain benefits is set too low to make a difference, and many of those who qualify for statutory sick pay say they would be unable to get by on just £95 per week.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Asking workers to self-isolate on £96 a week is not viable – especially when many don’t have savings to fall back on.
“We can’t have a situation where people are forced to choose between their health and paying their bills.
“Employers must do their civic duty and make sure workers can self-isolate on full pay. But where bosses can’t or won’t the government must step in.
“Unless ministers fix this gaping hole in our safety net Britain will be ill-prepared for a second wave of infections or more local lockdowns.
“The government must ensure that everyone has access to sick pay and raise the basic rate to at least the real living wage of £320 a week.”