Almost two-thirds of employers think the UK’s rate of statutory sick pay (SSP) is too low, according to research by the CIPD.
Its report, What should an effective sick pay system look like? claims the UK’s sick pay system is “broken” and fails to protect the most vulnerable members of society.
The CIPD has gathered the views of 1,000 employers, of which 62% think the current rate of £96.35 per week for up to 28 weeks should be increased.
Almost six in 10 (57%) smaller companies polled by the CIPD agreed, despite being likely to be hit hardest by sickness absence costs.
The CIPD reports that around 5.6 million people, or 17.2% of the workforce, do not currently qualify for SSP. This includes self-employed people and employees who do not meet the earnings threshold of £120 a week they need to qualify.
The precarious nature of SSP has been exposed by the pandemic, with many people feeling they must continue to work while ill or struggling financially with self-isolation.
As the new Omicron variant rips through the workforce, the CIPD has called for steps to be taken so SSP can provide a better financial safety net for these workers.
The CIPD has called for the government to raise the level of SSP to be at least equivalent to someone earning the national minimum wage or national living wage. This would mean someone aged 23 or over would expect to receive £62.37 a day.
The HR body would also like the government to remove the lower earnings limit, and potentially amend the rules to allow for phased returns to work. One option would be to remove the three qualifying days for payment of SSP.
Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD, said: “The UK’s SSP system has been broken for a long time and the pandemic has only highlighted its failure to protect the lowest paid and most vulnerable members of our society.
“However, despite a number of government consultations proposing reforms to SSP, there are currently no real plans to improve the system.
“With an ageing workforce and skills shortages, it’s even more important that we have an effective SSP system to help employers attract and retain a diverse workforce.
“Not only does SSP need to provide an effective financial safety net for those unable to work when sick, it needs to better reflect today’s labour market.”
Suff urged the government to consult on how the system could cover those in atypical work, including the self-employed.
The CIPD is also encouraging employers to ensure they have a financial wellbeing strategy that covers elements such as paying a living wage, making sure their workforce is aware of all the benefits currently offered and information about where to get free, independent money and debt advice.
A further measure might be to introduce an occupational sick pay scheme offering enhanced pay above the statutory minimum for employees who cannot work when sick, it advised.
The TUC has also called for an increase to SSP and reform of the payment more generally, warning that self-isolation brought about by higher rates of Covid transmission could mean thousands of workers miss out.