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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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that case. I know from my postbag and email account that a number of businesses and individuals affected, who are concerned on health grounds or who have concerns about their employment or financial status, will contact their Member of Parliament. We are not always the first port of call—we are sometimes the last—but we are one where people expect to be able to get a response quickly, so I will look at what further guidance and advice we can give to Members of this House and through local authorities. That point about getting the message out to local authorities may well have been heard, because the relevant Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Luke Hall , is sitting on the Treasury Bench behind me.

Ruth Jones raised the point about SSP and the rebate for employees, and whether that could be for more than two weeks. I understand the point she is making. The current Government advice is for people to self-isolate for seven days or for 14 days if in a household, so we feel that the two-week limit on rebates is a proportionate response. She also asked why SSP is not at the same rate as the living wage. The current system is designed to balance support for the individual with the costs to the employer. As the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work mentioned at the beginning of this debate, we have put £1 billion into the welfare system to provide additional financial security for people, and people on low income can get a top-up, where applicable, through UC.

Numerous hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) and for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), raised a point about the private rented sector. Today at Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister did say that we will be bringing forward legislation to protect private renters from eviction, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is considering whether we need to go further on that point.

Stephen Timms and Neil Gray both raised a point about the consultation on the lower earnings limit. Our immediate concern in dealing with the covid-19 outbreak is to ensure that a suitable financial safety net is in place, and the benefits system does provide that. We estimate that about 60% of people earning below the lower earnings limit are already in receipt of benefits. Our longer-term aim in that consultation was about preserving the link between the employer and the employee so that the individual receives appropriate support upon return to work. That is less relevant when most people are facing short periods away from work. I or the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work would be happy to meet those Members at a later point to discuss that further.

Numerous hon. Members asked why the focus so far has been on businesses and has not just been about individuals. It is so important that organisations are able to carry on trading, which is why the initial focus of Her Majesty’s Treasury has been on supporting business and keeping people in work where it is sensible and appropriate, based on Government guidance, to do so. Ultimately, that protects so many individuals in our society, but of course we are also looking at other measures for workers.

Chi Onwurah, the right hon. Member for East Ham and the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts all made the point about raising the level of statutory sick pay. We continue to look at other support for workers to see what best mechanisms are available. Thankfully, a period of absence is likely to be short—we believe between seven and 14 days—but we know that some may need extra support, as Members across the Chamber have said. We know that low-paid workers are likely to be receiving additional support through universal credit, for example, and the advantage of universal credit is that it will go up if income falls to the equivalent SSP level.