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Government must act to prevent millions of workers facing “an impossible choice” in wake of coronavirus

Citizens Advice is urging the government to protect millions of workers who may be pushed into financial hardship by government advice to self-isolate during the coronavirus.

This includes more than 5 million self-employed workers and at least 1.5 million low-income jobs that fall below the earnings limit to qualify for statutory sick pay. 

Plans published today by the government revealed that up to a fifth of the workforce may be off sick during the peak of a coronavirus epidemic. 

The charity warns that agency workers and people on zero-hour contracts may also be unclear of their eligibility for sick pay.

Citizens Advice is calling for the government to take the following steps:

  • Promote and clarify sick pay rights, in particular for agency workers and people on zero-hour contracts, as well as for those who self-isolate

  • Make sure people can access quick financial support if they are not eligible for statutory sick pay, for example if they are self-employed

Sheila is 64, works part time and is on Universal Credit. She says: 

“I am contracted to work 10 hours a week and when I have previously been sick for a few days, my manager has paid me but said it was at their discretion. If I did get coronavirus I am not sure if I would get paid or if I can get Statutory Sick Pay.

“Financially I couldn't even afford to be off work. I'm already struggling to pay my bills and afford to eat as it is, so having even less money would be an absolute nightmare.”

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“No one should fear getting ill or risk their health because they won’t be able to pay their bills, but this will be the reality for millions of workers if the coronavirus outbreak worsens.

“Problems with our system for sick pay are long-standing. Even for those eligible for statutory sick pay, at just £400 a month it may not be enough to cover essential living costs, leaving them with the impossible choice of ignoring advice to self isolate or continuing to work while unwell. 

“The government must clarify sick pay rights for workers and ensure the benefits system can respond flexibly so that people have enough to make ends meet if they do fall ill.”