logo Member of Parliament for Glasgow East

The sick (pay) man of Europe

Published on

Today, the rate of Statutory Sick Pay in the UK increases by only 50 pence, taking it to an inadequate £96.35 per week.

The UK already lags way behind our closest European neighbours when it comes to supporting people too ill to work, and this pitiful increase will only see us fall even further behind.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the average weekly earnings across the UK stand at £572. Statutory Sick Pay equates to less than 17% of that.

Support for those who need to take time off has come into sharp focus recently, with the UK Government facing heavy criticism for failing to properly compensate those needing to self-isolate.

This wrong-headed approach has resulted in a failure on the part of the UK Government to contain the spread of coronavirus right across the UK.

A recent analysis published in the British Medical Journal revealed damning statistics:

"The limited evidence available suggests adherence to self-isolation is generally low, and both financial and logistical factors determine an individual’s ability to isolate. A series of online surveys conducted in the UK with over 30,000 participants found that only 18% of those who had experienced symptoms in the past seven days had not left home since developing symptoms, and only 11% of close contacts quarantined."

BMJ 2021;372:n625

The picture across Europe couldn't be more contrasting. I recently raised the example of Finland in the House of Commons, highlighting how the government there had been paying workers 100% of their salary when required to self-isolate.

You can read more about this in another post on this site - Finland COVID-19 support puts UK to shame.

Finland isn't an outlier in terms of support either. According to data from the Mutual Information System on Social Protection (MISSOC), the UK is completely out of step on this issue.

Norway - 100% of the salary based on average income reported last 3 months from the first day for employees, 100% of the income basis from the 17th day for freelancers and 80% from the 17th day for self-employed . A voluntary insurance supplement to cover a rate of 100% from the first day is available to the self-employed and to freelancers.

Poland - Sickness Allowance is 100% of reference wage per month for illness occurring during pregnancy, a travel accident between home and work, or for absence from work due to the donation of tissue or organs to another person. In event of hospitalisation, the benefit pays 70%. In all other circumstances, it's 80%.

Spain - From the 4th to the 20th day of sick leave included sickness benefit is 60%, increasing to 75% from the 21st day of illness.

The countries listed above aren't the only examples either:

  • Netherlands - 70%
  • Slovenia - 70-100%
  • Romania - 75-100%
  • Latvia - 80%
  • Hungary - 50-60%
  • Germany 70%
  • France - 50%
  • Austria - 50-60%

As these international comparisons show, support in the UK isn't fit for purpose. We shamefully have the least generous support of any advanced economy for people unable to work due to illness.

Statutory Sick Pay urgently needs to be increased and extended, yet the UK Government refuses to listen.

With the full powers of independence, the Scottish Government would have the ability roll-out a system that would meet people’s needs and ensure their standard of living is not disadvantaged by Coronavirus or any other illness.



External links

From resolutionfoundation.org
Time Out: A report from the Resolution Foundation on th need to reform Statutory Sick Pay to support the Covid-19 recovery phase

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