· News

MPs call for sick pay boost

A record 185.6 million working days were lost to sickness or injury in 2022 (Office for National Statistics)

Statutory sick pay (SSP) is failing to provide enough support for those who most need financial help when ill; it should be increased and made more widely available, MPs said last week (28 March).

A report from the cross-party Work and Pensions Committee stated that a modest increase to SSP would strike a reasonable balance between providing extra financial support and not placing excessive extra costs on businesses.  

It recommended a rate in line with the flat rate of statutory maternity pay, which would see SSP rise from the current weekly level of £109.40 to £172.48 per week.

The report says that all employees should be eligible for SSP, not just those earning above the lower earnings limit of £123 per week. The report also calls on the government to amend legislation to enable SSP to be paid in combination with wages, in order to encourage phased returns to work. 

Read more: Frontline workers unable to afford sick days

The government responded to the report by saying that a 6.7% increase would take effect this month (April), as determined by a review in November 2023. 

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: "Our £2.5bn Back to Work Plan is tackling sickness absence and getting people back working, while we are expanding access to mental health services and supporting those at risk of long-term unemployment." 

Stephen Timms, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “Statutory sick pay is failing in its primary purpose to act as a safety net for workers who most need financial help during illness.  

“With the country continuing to face high rates of sickness absence, the government can no longer afford to keep kicking the can down the road on reform.” 

SSP reform is particularly important in the wake of the cost of living crisis, according to Novo Constare, CEO and co-founder of Indeed Flex. 

He told HR magazine: “With many workers already under sustained financial pressure, falling sick and losing income can create a huge burden for households, so any rise in sick pay should be welcomed. 

“Widening the safety net would also be a positive move. Too many people fall through the cracks in the system, including those who do multiple jobs but cannot access sick pay because none of their roles meet the lower earning limit. 

“Supporting workers when they fall ill can have a positive impact not just on individuals but on businesses. The offer of sick pay ensures that staff can focus on their recovery, and return to work when they are well, rather than attempting to go back too fast, leading to further absences.” 

Read more: Doctor pockets £10,000 sick pay while moonlighting at two hospitals

Nicole Bello, group vice president EMEA for workforce management software firm UKG, said that employers also have a role to play supporting employees through illness. 

She told HR magazine: “These changes do go some way to supporting employees through their illness and in their return to work but they are just one part of a collective effort to support people.  

“Ultimately though, great managers and welcoming workplaces are the best tools for the transition back after long-term illness. Throughout periods of sustained economic difficulty, reintegrating employees into the workplace as best you can is of paramount importance. 

“Managers should focus their efforts on providing employees with the tools they need, such as easy access to high-quality training, autonomy to design their schedules around their wellbeing and the ability to connect with their colleagues via technology.”