Statutory Sick Pay and Protection for Workers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:51 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Rachel Reeves Rachel Reeves Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee 1:51 pm, 18th March 2020

It is an honour to follow my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms, who made a powerful speech, particularly about refugees and asylum seekers. Their plight, and the specific issues they face, have not been discussed nearly enough in the past few days and weeks.

At times of national and, as in this case, global crisis, only Governments have the resources to protect our society and our health, to protect the most vulnerable, to protect businesses and production, and to protect workers. Markets cannot do that; only the Government can. That is why the Government must step up to ensure that we protect all our citizens, to direct our national economy, to help and support the people who most need it, and to ensure that resources get to where they are most needed.

I will talk primarily about issues with statutory sick pay, but let me first say something about the reports in the newspapers today that some Harley Street clinics are offering coronavirus tests for £395. That means someone can get the test if they have the money, but someone who works in a GP surgery cannot get it. That is utterly unacceptable. The role of the Government is to intervene to ensure that resources go where they are most needed—not to the rich and powerful, but to the people delivering our frontline services, who need protection. I urge Ministers to do that.

The measures taken by the Chancellor yesterday were necessary and worth while to protect our economic infrastructure and to support the most severely hit sectors of our economy. They were also necessary to support businesses, which are not responsible for the collapse in demand they are experiencing. The same is true of workers—they are not responsible for the predicament they find themselves in—yet support for them was missing from the Chancellor’s statement yesterday. The Minister has said today—the Prime Minister has said it too—that everybody will be supported to do the right thing. We all want that, but I am afraid at the moment that is not the case. People are not being supported to do the right thing. For many people, the right thing is not to go to work—not to spread this virus, but to stay at home.

If we really want people to do the right thing, we need to support them to make that decision, so let me turn to statutory sick pay. This point has been well rehearsed in debate both today and yesterday, but it obviously needs to be made time and again, because so far the necessary measures have not been taken. Statutory sick pay is not enough for people to be able to support themselves and their family. The level of statutory sick pay is insufficient.

The ineligibility is also a huge problem. If people are self-employed or earn below the lower earnings limit, they are not able to get statutory sick pay. Some of the people who most need it are denied the support that the Government say is necessary. Other people may not be sick, but also need support. If they are self-isolating, they might not have symptoms or be sick, but the right thing to do is to stay at home. If we want people to stay at home, they need support.

Similarly, we will have a statement from the Secretary of State for Education later and if, as now seems inevitable, many parents will have to take time off work to look after their children, they will need support to do the right thing, although they will not be sick. Of course, many people also face redundancy because their businesses cannot employ them anymore. Or if they are self-employed, the work is just not coming in. At the moment, those people are not able to claim statutory sick pay, and they will have to wait in the queue for universal credit or ESA if they have the contributions. That is not supporting people to do the right thing.