Statutory Sick Pay and Protection for Workers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:03 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 1:03 pm, 18th March 2020

Let me make a little progress, because I think I am about to cover some of the things being asked about. I promise that I will take more interventions.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, which is why we have extended statutory sick pay to those who are self-isolating in line with the latest Government health guidance. The guidance is available online on gov.uk and ensures that eligible individuals, whether they are sick or self-isolating, will be entitled to statutory sick pay if they are unable to work because they are following Government advice.

The upcoming emergency Bill will mean that for people affected by coronavirus, statutory sick pay will be payable from day one, instead of day four, and currently it will be backdated to 13 March. We removed those waiting days to get support to people as quickly as possible. These are crucial measures to ensure that employees do not attend work when they should stay at home to help to keep themselves and others safe. The circumstances are exceptional and we urge employers to do the right thing, use their discretion and respect the medical need to self-isolate.

Statutory sick pay is a legal minimum, and employers can offer more. Where possible, employers should support their employees to work from home to help to slow the spread of the virus. If employers do feel the need to require evidence, people who are advised to self-isolate for coronavirus will soon be able to obtain an alternative to the fit note by contacting NHS 111 rather than visiting a doctor. We are all aware of the need to protect GP surgeries so that they can concentrate on key areas of work.

Accordingly, the Government will ensure that businesses are supported to deal with the temporary economic impact of the outbreak of coronavirus. Small and medium-sized enterprises are at the heart of our economy, symbolising the hard work and enterprising spirit of our nation. To support such employers with the increased costs of sick pay, the emergency Bill will provide that employers with fewer than 250 employees can reclaim up to two weeks’ statutory sick pay for sickness absences related to coronavirus. That includes those who are required to self-isolate in line with Government guidance. The measure could provide more than £2 billion of support for up to 2 million businesses, and will be crucial to ensure that our economy keeps running.

The measure on statutory sick pay is in addition to others to support businesses that were outlined by the Chancellor yesterday: £330 billion of Government-backed and guaranteed loans; additional cash grants of up to £25,000 for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a rateable value of less than £51,000; and cash grants of £10,000 to 700,000 of our smaller businesses. The Government will do whatever it takes to support our economy.

Of course, not everyone is eligible for statutory sick pay, which is paid by employers. Gig workers and those on zero-hours contracts may be entitled to sick pay, and should check with their employer, but millions of hard-working people who are self-employed or in the gig economy will need our help, too. That is why we are making it easier to access benefits during this period.

The shadow Secretary of State talked about disability benefits and the announcement that we made earlier this week. The first decision was to remove face-to-face assessments, because we recognise that a significant proportion of those who could be claiming disability benefits are vulnerable. We want to avoid them needing to travel unnecessarily and to sit in busy waiting rooms, so we decided to stop face-to-face assessments. However, we do not want to stop new people gaining access to the support that they are entitled to, so we are seeking to continue to do paper-based and telephone reviews, but prioritising those who are new claimants, and looking at the workforce on a daily basis.