Coronavirus: information and updates

Important change to the sick pay system

In 1983 Statutory Sick Pay was introduced. A lot has changed in the world of work since the Working Girl days of power suits, but the system surrounding Statutory Sick Pay has not been keeping up, and this is hitting disabled people particularly hard.

Today we welcome the Government’s launch of a long-awaited consultation, which looks into – amongst other things – what change is needed in the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) system. This is something Scope has been campaigning on for many years. Crucially, the consultation offers us, and the millions of disabled people we represent, an important route to change.

What is Statutory Sick Pay?

It might not have the most exciting of titles, but it serves a vital purpose. Over 30 years ago, Statutory Sick Pay was introduced to protect employees from facing a financial penalty for being unwell. Good modern employment should support employees at every stage. Yet for every 100 disabled people who enter work, 120 leave. In order to improve the disability employment gap, which hasn’t changed for a decade, core changes are needed.

The current Statutory Sick Pay system hits disabled people the hardest, who need more flexibility to help manage conditions, and it doesn’t provide enough financial support to cover costs. One disabled person told us “I went back [to work] because otherwise money was going to dry up”. For some disabled people in work, it’s a case of feeling stuck working through sickness or coming financially unstuck as a result of a sickness absence.

Disabled people are left facing the true cost of sickness - stuck working and not taking the time off they need, or not feeling able to be open with managers. They’re often forced into negative lifestyle changes, such as moving house or cutting down on essentials, to cover costs, or falling out of work altogether.

The launch of the Government’s consultation

At Scope, we’ve been eagerly anticipating the launch of this Government consultation looking into Statutory Sick Pay. This consultation is an opportunity for everyone – disabled people, charities, Disabled People’s Organisations, businesses and beyond – to tell the Government what they think about Statutory Sick Pay. And we will soon be doing exactly that and asking our campaigners to respond.

To make sure you don’t miss this opportunity, sign up now to be a Disability Gamechanger with us.

The Government’s consultation is rightly recognising that the Statutory Sick Pay system is out-of-date, inflexible and poorly enforced. We’re pleased it references the need for greater flexibility and improving how it’s enforced. Our research into disabled people’s experiences of Statutory Sick Pay highlights significant problems with understanding around the system; there’s a lack of clarity as to what people are entitled to, when they receive it and when it runs out, and – complicating things – people often receive poor treatment stemming from negative attitudes from their employer. Giving people more options on how they return to work, which is also recognised as an important issue, will be crucial to this, as will be improved systems to calculate how much someone is owed.

Although we welcome this consultation, we’re concerned it doesn’t go far enough.

We think the right sick pay system should offer support right away, and remove ‘waiting days’ which means that employees cannot access support from their first day of sickness absence. Although the consultation acknowledges some issues with waiting days, we will be pushing for this to go further and remove them entirely.

We are disappointed the Government is not consulting on the level or length of Statutory Sick Pay being provided. We know that disabled employees are coming financially unstuck and facing significant stress when receiving SSP as it does not cover costs – especially when it runs out. Addressing this should be a priority for the next Government. The right sick pay system should offer support which is flexible and fair, right away. At Scope, we will continue to campaign for this.

This consultation offers an important step on this journey – and the more of us who can respond to it as possible will help the Government understand the true cost of sickness for disabled people, and why significant reform of Statutory Sick Pay is essential.

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