Sick pay survey launched as staff say they can’t afford to be sick

All those who complete the survey will automatically be entered into a £250 prize draw. The survey deadline is 22 April 2022

UNISON is organising a campaign around sick pay and is inviting members to share their experiences and their employers’ policies via a survey.

Everyone who completes the survey will be entered into a £250 prize draw. The survey deadline has been extended to Friday 22 April.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought the UK’s statutory sick pay (SSP) into sharp focus. Workers who risked their lives to do their jobs have had their pay cut when they became sick or had to self-isolate.

For far too may workers, sick pay policies forced them to choose between following the COVID-19 guidance or putting food on the table.

This issue affected all sectors, but was particularly acute in in social care, where although some employers used money from the Infection Control Fund to pay workers’ sick pay, many did not. Now the government has removed this support.

UNISON social care lead Gavin Edwards said: “The pandemic has shown us that proper sick pay can be a matter of life and death. The example of social care is particularly stark.

“Care workers being told they will lose hundreds of pounds a week in income if they follow advice and self-isolate is plainly dangerous.

“It risks COVID outbreaks in care settings which will endanger life.  

“Employers and the government need to take responsibility, funding and implementing sick pay schemes which stop penalising people for doing the right thing,” he added.

“UNISON will keep pushing for proper sick pay across all public service because it is right, fair and will help keep people safe.”

In 2021, UNISON found that one in three care workers were receiving less than £100 a week – if anything at all – for having to shield or self-isolate during the pandemic.

Maria* is a care worker in England who supports people with mental health issues. She received no sick pay when she had to self-isolate after a close relative tested positive for COVID-19.

She said: “I’ve never taken a day off sick from my job – but not because I’ve not been ill, it’s because I just can’t afford to. My colleague had to cover me when I was self-isolating and she worked 100 hours in just one week.”

Clare*, who works in a care home, was notified that she needed to self-isolate. Her employer told her to use holiday leave or apply for statutory sick pay.

“I felt so undervalued and unappreciated, which made me angry,” she said. “We’ve worked through the pandemic and kept our residents COVID-free. I’d no problem isolating. Not getting the full amount of time off when you’ve worked so hard made me feel down and depressed.

“I know I’m entitled to sick pay, but I only got SSP. The care home I work for received huge grants to cover COVID-19 costs, but the company only gave full pay to those who had to take time off work after 13 May.

“That meant that, when the pandemic was at its height and most people were off work, they weren’t getting paid properly.”

The UK’s statutory sick pay scheme is among the least generous in Europe. According to the TUC, the proportion of a UK worker’s salary covered by sick pay is just 19%, according to the TUC.

Rates are higher in Germany (100%), Belgium (93%), Spain (42%) and Sweden (64%). 

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity.