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9 million UK workers’ ‘at risk’, as UK’s sick pay crisis worsens

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New data suggests that the UK’s sick pay crisis has pushed millions of Britain’s frontline workers to the brink of financial strain, burnout, anxiety and depression. The research, compiled by financial wellbeing experts at Wagestream, follows calls from MPs and campaigners for the country’s sick pay system to be reformed.

The latest Low Pay Britain report highlighted that UK statutory sick pay ‘offers very little insurance against sickness, particularly when compared to other rich countries – and is unusual in being funded solely by employers. Sick pay is also disproportionately unfair to Britain’s lowest-income workers: the 1.6 million workers earning less than £123 a week are ineligible for any statutory sick pay at all.

New research, analysed by financial well-being experts at Wagestream, now highlights the extent of the sick pay crisis among low and variable income households – who are already forced to pay £490 more each year for basic products and services, than the rest of the country.

The survey of 2,000 frontline workers reveals a looming crisis for millions: the vast majority (83%) of frontline workers fear they would need to work through illness – because the current legislation means they can’t afford to take sick leave. For 91% of them, being signed off for just two weeks would put them under financial pressure. Existing sick pay legislation means that a quarter (28%) of frontline workers would be forced to go without heating or eating if signed off for work for two weeks or more.

The research also highlights the mental health impact of the sick pay crisis. An absence of two weeks or more would lead to feelings of anxiety and/or depression, for 86% of the UK’s essential workers – and almost all (92%) of them are worried about burning out if they have to work through illness. Quotes from respondents included:

“There have been instances where I was unable to afford to take time away from work and as a consequence was hospitalised.”

“Having time off for a surgery required would jeopardise my ability to pay my mortgage let alone other bills. So I’m putting off the surgery and enduring the pain on a daily basis.”

“I was off sick for 3 weeks with a slipped disk in my neck. I took my entire year’s holiday, as statutory sick pay wouldn’t cover any of my bills.”

The situation is so severe that an overwhelming majority (84%) of UK frontline workers say that company sick pay support is ‘one of the most important’ benefits a UK employer can offer.

In response to the findings, Emily Trant, Head of Impact and Inclusion at Wagestream said: “The UK’s sick pay crisis requires urgent action on two fronts. Firstly, we need to ensure that no worker is left behind: it’s unacceptable that frontline workers pay more for basic services, and on top of that are given less protection for their income. Secondly, it’s time to modernise policy and ensure employers aren’t left alone to solve the problem. ”

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