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

The hon. Gentleman is right. For many people, if they have a temporary reduction in their work, they can draw on their savings, but many of the people I represent—and many of his constituents as well—do not have savings to draw on. The Resolution Foundation published evidence last week before the Budget—to try to influence the Budget—that showed that 60% of people on low and middle incomes have less than £100 of savings. They do not have the resources to draw on even temporarily for a short time to pay the rent or the mortgage, or to put food on the table.

We must offer more support. That is what other countries are doing. In Norway, full pay is given to those laid off for 20 days. The self-employed get 80% of their average income over the last three years. In Sweden, laid-off workers are guaranteed 90% of their income: the Government will pick up half of that and employers are expected to pick up the other half. In Denmark, the Danish state will pay 75% of the salaries of laid-off workers. That is the same in many other countries. If it is good enough in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and other countries in the European Union and elsewhere, it is frankly good enough for workers in this country too.

It is now urgent that the Government come to the House and tell us that support is not just available for business—although that is very welcome—but is available to workers as well. Unless that happens, people will not be able to self-isolate and stop the virus spreading. The health crisis will become an economic crisis and many people will pay the price for the virus. It does not need to be that way. Let us look at income replacement, and quickly, to ensure that help is available.

As important as helping people now is, if we put in place income replacement so that people are not laid off or made redundant, it will also support the economic recovery. The pandemic will pass—we must believe that and we know it is the case—but when it does, and people want to go out again and to start spending in shops, restaurants, bars, theatres and cafes and to travel on aeroplanes, we need to ensure that the economic fabric of our country is still intact. The best way to do that is to ensure that workers remain attached to the firms that have been employing then. Income replacement can help people now, but it can also ensure that our economy gets back on a sound footing when the crisis has passed. To build the economy we need to see after this, I urge the Government to introduce urgently a system of income replacement.

The issue of renters has also been mentioned by Front Benchers and others. There was support yesterday for people with mortgages, and that is very welcome, but many people, especially those in precarious work or on low pay, do not have mortgages—they rent privately or in the social sector. In my constituency, fewer than a third of homes are owner-occupied; the others are either in the private rented sector or the social rented sector, and we need to do much more to support those people as well, because if they are on statutory sick pay now, or have seen a fall in their incomes or are expecting to be made redundant, frankly they are not going to be able to pay their rent in the days and weeks ahead. It was welcome that the Prime Minister said there will be support for renters, but we need to see the detail of that, and we need to see that support coming directly to landlords and renters to ensure that nobody is penalised because they do not have the money to pay their rents right now. That requires support for local authorities, who are big letting agents, and big providers of social housing; the support needs to go to the housing associations too and also large landlords, and we should be working with local government to ensure that we are reaching and talking to the biggest letting agencies and estate agents to make sure that support is getting to the people on the ground.

Again, I cannot stress enough how important this is; this action is needed urgently. The representative of the hospitality sector said last night that we are staring at hundreds of thousands of redundancies in that sector alone, so income replacement and support for people in the rented sector is crucially important.

The support for mortgages is a three-month holiday, and I say again that I am not sure that that is the right approach in the private rented sector, because a three-month holiday on a person’s mortgage which can then be added to their mortgage debt is one thing, but if in three or four months’ time someone has four months’ worth of rent to pay, that is not going to be much good if they have found their incomes have not recovered by then. We therefore need to be sensitive about ensuring that the support is there for the period of time that it is needed for.

Finally, I want to say something about gas and electricity and broadband and television licences. These are all essential services for people, and they will be more essential in the weeks and days and months ahead as more people are having to stay at home. Broadband is now absolutely an essential service, because the only way that many people can get food delivered is by ordering online. Again I urge Ministers to say to the providers of those essential services that nobody should be cut off from those essential services as long as the pandemic lasts, because otherwise people will find themselves without the basic infrastructure to be able to stay in their homes.

This global pandemic has thrown into sharp relief some of the problems in our labour market and in our social security system, so when this is all over we cannot go back to business as usual. If people cannot survive on £94.25 statutory sick pay when there is a global pandemic, they cannot survive on £94.25 at any other time, so we need to look at the waiting time for universal credit and the level of statutory sick pay, and who is eligible for it, and also, frankly, how our labour market works. We have 1 million people on zero-hour contracts and we have almost 5 million people who are self-employed—some choose to be, but many have no choice—so we need to look at how our economy works and who it works for, because whether we are in the midst of a global pandemic or not, there are too many people in our country that our economy, our labour market and, frankly, our society do not work for.