Statutory Sick Pay and Protection for Workers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:21 pm on 18th March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 1:21 pm, 18th March 2020

I absolutely agree. Many calls are being made across the country today for direct payments to be made from the Government to utility companies to ensure that people in these circumstances do not miss out, but it goes back to my original premise: incomes for people, regardless of their circumstances during this period, are going to be hit, so the Government need to provide some form of minimum income guarantee to ensure that people in all circumstances are able to get through, whether that is via statutory sick pay or the social security system. If they are in work, the Government must ensure that, if people lose hours, those could be picked up again, so they continue to pay their bills and continue to live a sustainable life.

The monthly allowance for universal credit should also be increased dramatically and all other social security payment levels should be swiftly reviewed as well. Clearly now, this is not business as usual. We cannot continue to pay social security rates which impoverish in normal times, never mind now. We are going to have to accept that, to get through, the UK Government are going to need to inject a massive amount of money into the economy to make up for what is undoubtedly going to be a massive downturn across a wide range of sectors, the like of which I do not think we have ever seen before—a downturn that will result from the actions that the UK Government and other Governments are rightly taking in asking people to self-isolate and take other actions to contain the virus. We cannot tell people to stay away from work if they have symptoms, to stay away from restaurants, bars and cinemas and to work from home, and not expect an economic impact, an employment impact and an income impact. The UK Government must fill that hole to ensure that they fulfil the promises of the Prime Minister that nobody will be penalised and everyone will be protected for doing the right thing.

I wish to conclude with an encouragement to everybody who may be following this debate. Please be community-minded. We have already seen some fantastic ideas and responses to the crisis in all our communities. Watch out for your neighbours. Help if you can. Buy only what you need. If they have the means to buy more, add what you can to the food bank trolley and know that others certainly do not have the ability to stockpile. Many of my constituents are already worried about how they will access essentials because they are self-isolating, have lost their job or have other vulnerabilities. Now, like never before in so many of our lifetimes, we need the community-mindedness that got previous generations through such emergency situations.

We also need to start talking about how those of us who are fit and well—and who have contracted and come through the other side of covid-19—can help key sectors of the economy and emergency services to cope with what is to come. I suspect that, in time, with self-isolation and illness, we will need to mobilise that volunteer army. But that can only happen if we ensure that everyone has their income protected. Support for business is important, but at the end of the day it will be income protection, in whatever form that takes—a cash grant or a temporary universal basic income—that will finally give everyone the comfort to do the right thing by society. That will give the answers to the questions that we are all getting from businesses, the self-employed, renters and others.

I hope that, within hours, rather than days, the UK Government will do the right thing and guarantee incomes, as we have seen in other nations. We are willing to discuss any potential measures that the UK Government are thinking of in order to ensure that this is done properly and quickly.