A fifth of workers have no sick pay
One in five people forced to self-isolate and unable to work from home have received no sick pay or wages, a new study suggests.
The TUC warned that many workers will be plunged into hardship in the coming months if they only rely on statutory sick pay.
The union organisation called on ministers to urgently increase financial support for people who have to self-isolate.
The survey of 2,200 adults suggested that two-fifths of workers would have to go into debt, or into arrears on their bills, if their income dropped to £96 a week, the current level of statutory sick pay, rising to almost half of disabled workers.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “With the virus becoming more infectious, it’s more important than ever that people self-isolate when they develop symptoms.
“But the lack of decent sick pay is undermining Britain’s public health effort and is forcing workers to choose between doing the right thing and being plunged into hardship.
“Ministers must stop turning a blind eye to this problem and raise sick pay to at least the real living wage of £320 a week, and they must ensure that everyone has access to it.”
Meanwhile, tough new coronavirus restrictions may have to remain in place until March, senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove warned, as England enters its third national lockdown.
OnMonday, Boris Johnson announced stringent new controls – including closing schools to most pupils – in an attempt to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed by a surge in new infections.
At the same time, the Prime Minister raised the prospect that the vaccination programme being rolled out across the country could enable restrictions to be progressively eased from mid-February.
But, in a round of broadcast interviews on Tuesday, Mr Gove said relaxation of the rules may have to wait until the following month – and that even then some measures may have to remain in place.
“We will keep these constantly under review, but we can’t predict with certainty that we will be able to lift restrictions in the week commencing February 15-22,” he told Sky News.
“What we will be doing is everything that we can to make sure that as many people as possible are vaccinated, so that we can begin to progressively lift restrictions.
“I think it is right to say that, as we enter March, we should be able to lift some of these restrictions, but not necessarily all.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, meanwhile, unveiled a fresh £4.6 billion support package for businesses across the UK dealt a further crippling blow by enforced closures.
It includes one-off top-up grants worth up to £9,000 for firms in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors to help nurse them through to the spring.
The Chancellor was forced to defend himself and Mr Johnson against allegations that they have consistently been behind the curve on decision-making, telling reporters: “The Prime Minister has acted decisively in the face of new information.”
Mr Sunak also said he would “take stock” of government support packages in March’s Budget, when pressed on whether he would extend the furlough scheme to prevent a wave of business closures and redundancies.
Mr Johnson’s announcement came after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon imposed a lockdown on Scotland for the rest of January, with a legal requirement to stay at home and schools closed to most pupils until February.
Schools and colleges in Wales will also remain closed until at least January 18 and move to online learning.
In his address, Mr
Johnson warned the coming weeks will be the “hardest yet” but said that “with a fair wind in our sails” it should be possible to vaccinate 13 million of the most vulnerable people by mid-February, paving the way for controls to be eased.
The Prime Minister had previously strongly resisted calls to delay the reopening of primary schools in particular following the Christmas break – despite pressure from the teaching unions.
Mr Gove said they had been forced to act with a “heavy heart” after the chief medical officers of the four nations warned there was a danger the NHS would be overwhelmed by the surge in infections caused by the new variant of Covid-19.