In its response to the Health is everyone’s business consultation, government said extending SSP in this way was not the most efficient way to support low earning limit (LEL) employees. This is despite 75% of respondents to the consultation arguing SSP should be extended to this group.
Government said that to introduce this change during the pandemic would have placed an “immediate cost” on employers at a time where most required government support through the pandemic.
The sick pay landscape:
Not extending sick pay puts two million low-paid workers in a tough financial situation when they are unable to work, according to Mike Brewer, chief economist at the Resolution Foundation.
He told HR magazine: “The government’s ongoing failure to fix sick pay 16 months into a global pandemic is bafflingly poor.
“While this financial bind was a problem pre-crisis, its particularly acute during a pandemic when workers are more likely to fall ill, and where it’s even more important that workers who are ill with COVID symptoms do not come into work and potentially pass it on to colleagues.”
Brewer added: “By not providing any statutory financial support for workers should they fall ill, affected workers face having to decide whether to take a financial hit by not coming into work, or taking a big health risk to themselves and their colleagues by continuing to work. No worker should have to face that dilemma.”
During the pandemic, SSP was made available from the first day of a COVID-related sickness absence.
SME employees can also claim on the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme, which supports employers with the increased costs of COVID-related absences.
The government acknowledged that throughout the pandemic, some employees had not received SSP when they were entitled to it and were instead relying on welfare benefits.
Brewer argued the welfare system was not doing enough to support sick employees.
He added: “While the wider welfare system has performed relatively well during the pandemic – for example, the rapid speed at which UC payments were processed at the start of the crisis – sick pay has continuously been its Achilles heel.”
Respondents felt that government should be taking a more “robust approach” to sick pay enforcement and cracking down on employers who fail to meet their obligations.
The majority (72%) said there was a need to introduce better enforcement of SSP.
This is being worked on, the government argued, as it is developing a Single Enforcement Body to bring varying entities into a single and recognisable organisation which will crack down on employers who do not offer sick pay to their employees.
Under current guidance, SSP is not an option for those looking for a phased return to work, which the report acknowledged as having “shown to be effective in supporting individuals with musculoskeletal and mental health conditions.”
In its response, government said: “SSP provides an important link between the employee and employer but now is not the right time to introduce changes to the sick pay system.”
Respondents said advice towards illness in the workplace was often fragmented, hard to navigate and difficult to apply in practice.
Government therefore promised to improve advice and information to support health in the workplace and encourage better-informed purchasing of occupational health advice.