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Britain's long-term illness crisis made worse by unequal access to sick pay, report warns

BRITAIN’S long-term illness crisis is being made worse by unequal access to statutory sick pay, a new report warns.

Women, disabled and young workers are suffering greater levels of burnout due to being less likely to earn enough to qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), the Work Foundation said.

The think tank called for the next government to address the problem with a comprehensive employment Bill within the first 100 days in office, estimating that more than one million workers don’t meet the threshold and may feel forced to work when they are ill.

The issue is compounded by 47 per cent of employers offering only the minimum SSP rate, it added in a report published today.

Warning that a record 2.83 million people are economically inactive due to long-term health issues, Work Foundation’s head of research Alice Martin said: “The current low rate of sick pay compels some people to work while they are unwell to make ends meet.

“This risks compounding existing health conditions and can lead to people dropping out of the labour market altogether.”

The report warned of a “vicious cycle” as above-average earners are 1.26 times more likely than lower paid workers to have more than 30 days’ annual leave.

Workers must currently earn more than £123 a week to access SSP of £1,16.75 for up to 28 weeks.

Many however face obstacles when claiming SSP as staff are only entitled to payment for the days they would have been scheduled to work.

And as those on zero-hours contracts generally only receive their shifts a week or two in advance, they can lose out on SSP as it only kicks in after three days of illness.

The think tank said SSP should be reformed by removing the lower earnings limit and enabling SSP to start on the first day of illness, and called for a roadmap for increasing the rate to 60 per cent of usual wages or the equivalent of the Real Living Wage.

It also backed the introduction of a government rebate to support smaller employers.

Labour has not yet committed to an increase in the weekly amount but has said it will scrap the three unpaid waiting days.

The Commons’ work and pensions committee concluded in April that SSP is too low.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said it is a scandal and “totally unproductive” for any worker not to have access to SSP.

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