Statutory Sick Pay and Protection for Workers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:01 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Will Quince Will Quince The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 3:01 pm, 18th March 2020

First, let me thank all Members from across the House who have taken the time to attend this important debate, and to speak about their concerns in such a constructive and collaborative way. I will try to answer as many of the numerous points raised as possible, but I stress that—as hon. Members know—my door is always open and my phone is always on. If Members have urgent cases, please reach out to me and other Ministers on the Treasury Bench; we will look to take the appropriate action, as necessary.

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made clear yesterday, we will do whatever it takes to support people, jobs and businesses, and to help people to protect their loved ones. This includes the measures we are taking on statutory sick pay, in order to ensure that everybody is supported to do the right thing and follow the Government advice on self-isolation. We must come together to fight this virus and protect the most vulnerable, and statutory sick pay is part of our welfare safety net and our wider Government offer to support people in times of need. That is why we are ensuring that our welfare safety net provides the right level of support in these exceptional times. We have extended statutory sick pay to those who are self-isolating, in line with the latest Government health guidance, and the upcoming emergency Bill will make statutory sick pay payable from day one instead of day four. This is the right thing to do to ensure that eligible individuals are supported to stay at home in self-isolation, protecting themselves and others.

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out, the Government will stand behind businesses, both large and small. As a DWP Minister, I know that the best way to support people is through protecting their jobs. Small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we will support them to implement these measures. Employers with fewer than 250 employees will be able to reclaim up to two weeks’ statutory sick pay paid for sickness absences relating to the coronavirus—a measure that could help up to 2 million businesses. These changes will help to provide certainty and security for individuals and businesses affected by coronavirus.

Statutory sick pay is just one of the Government’s offers of support and protection. The safety net also extends to those who are self-employed or who work in the gig economy. Workers on zero-hours contracts or in the gig economy may be eligible for sick pay and should check with their employers, but we are here to support those who are not eligible, and they can make a claim for universal credit or contributory employment and support allowance. Last week, we made changes so that the seven waiting days for employment and support allowance for new claimants affected by coronavirus or required to self-isolate will not apply. That means that ESA is payable from day one, without the need to provide medical evidence and without the need to attend a work capability assessment. Those required to self-isolate or who are ill with coronavirus can receive up to a month’s advance from day one, with no need to physically attend a jobcentre—that point was raised by Opposition Members. Any individuals affected by coronavirus will have their work search and work availability requirements switched off, and affected self-employed claimants will not have a minimum income floor applied during this period.

A number of specific points have been raised, and I will try to cover as many as possible. Bill Esterson raised the important point about the communication of changes. Everything is on, and Departments also use social media, such as Twitter, to highlight changes. There are also daily press conferences where updates on coronavirus are given by the Prime Minister, and he is increasingly being accompanied by another member of the Cabinet. However, I take the hon. Gentleman’s point that communications in times like this are incredibly important, and I will certainly feed back to the Cabinet Office that where improvements can be made to Government communications, particularly for businesses—that is the point he made—that should be done.