Statutory Sick Pay and Protection for Workers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:35 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee 1:35 pm, 18th March 2020

My hon. Friend makes a couple of very important points. I very much agree with him on the first, but on the second, my understanding is that self-employed people in this position can apply for this new employment and support allowance if they meet the contribution conditions, which, of course, some will not. That is where universal credit needs to be changed. One of those routes is likely to be a solution for them, rather than statutory sick pay, because that depends on there being an employer in place.

My final point is about the argument that has been made by many, and I am sure that will be made again in this debate, that the overall level of benefits should be higher, at least for the duration of this crisis, than it has been up until now. I just want to make one argument in favour of that proposition. We always say, and we have said it on both sides of this House, that work is the best route out of poverty, and the system is designed to encourage people to seek and find work but, at the moment, there are lots of people—and it will be a growing number over the coming weeks—whom we do not want to work. We do not want to force people into jobs. For many, the position will continue to be the same in the next few weeks as it has been in the past, but there is this large and very important group whom we really do not want to be working, and we want them to be at home. That, in particular, makes the case for Ministers who are looking temporarily at raising the levels of benefits—statutory sick pay and universal credit and the others.

I welcome what the Minister said about the suspension of face-to-face assessments for disability benefits. I think he suggested that, in practice, his Department will not conduct reassessments for disability benefits either. If that is the practical reality, it would be helpful if he stated that explicitly. I think that would be reassuring to a lot of people who are in receipt of disability benefits at the moment and expect to have to be reassessed in the next few months. That is always quite an anxious time for people in that position. If the reality is that they will not be reassessed for several months because everybody is busy with everything else, it would be helpful for that to be made explicit so that reassurance can be provided.

Of course, if it turns out that there are ways of doing the new assessments that do not require face-to-face meetings, and if that works well for new applications, hopefully lessons can be learned for the system in the longer term. However, if it was possible to make it clear that there will not be any disability benefit reassessments in the next few months, I think that would be widely welcomed.