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Is British sick pay enough to survive on?

As the EU referendum approaches, First4lawyers surveyed 2,000 UK employees on the topic of employment law and sick pay.

The results revealed that a worryingly high number of people are going into work ill or injured – putting their health and safety at risk – because they can’t survive financially on sick pay.

  • British employees are paid only 15% of their salary when sick
  • More than half of property and construction workers go to work ill, putting themselves in danger
  • 94% of those in the performing arts industry continue to work unfit, due to lack of sick pay

With changes potentially taking place if Britain leaves the EU on June 23rd, UK employees will be considering how other European countries treat their workforce.

While Brits receive just 15% of their salary if they have to take time off work ill, employees in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Belgium continue on full pay for up to a month.

British workers left unprotected

Andrew Cullwick at First4lawyers commented: “There are many arguments as to why the UK should remain or leave the EU, but it is clear that our membership workers’ rights are not as protected as many believe.

“Jeremy Corbyn was recently quoted saying EU membership has guaranteed working people vital employment rights, including paid holiday, maternity and paternity leave, protection for agency workers and health and safety in the workplace.

“However, our research not only demonstrates that UK workers fear taking time off due to injury and illness, but it is supported by wider research that shows how little UK employees receive if they are ill.

“You have to question whether workers would become more or less protected if Britain were to leave the EU.”

Almost half of Brits receive no financial help when sick

Almost half of respondents said that their employers can afford to offer more than statutory sick pay but choose not to, and an additional 60% claimed the support scheme does not pay enough to live on and indicated they would prefer a policy similar to Germany’s.

The average person’s monthly bills total £850, yet sick pay income only amounts to £350 a month, leaving an outstanding balance of £500.

More than half of people said they receive no financial help in covering this deficit when ill. One in four transport workers have to turn to their partner for help, while 15% rely on their overdraft.

In contrast, employees in Greece, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands all receive at least half of their wage when they are unfit to work. Better still, Switzerland pays workers three quarters of their expected monthly wage, and Poland’s sick pay is equivalent to 80% of an employee’s monthly salary.

Construction, transport and healthcare employees going to work ill and injured

Shockingly, almost two thirds of people that work in transport have gone into work ill or injured because they can’t afford time off – risking their health and safety at work.

While the majority of transport workers who are on statutory sick pay of £87.44 a week avoid having time off, 11% say they do not receive anything at all, and are therefore forced to work.

Almost half of transport workers said their employers do not fully support them during sick leave; only 9% knew how low statutory sick pay is and more than a third had no idea whatsoever how little they would receive in the event of having to take time off work ill.

Furthermore, more than half of property and construction employees confessed they have gone into work ill because they couldn’t afford time off: 41% are on statutory sick pay and one fifth don’t receive anything at all if they are off ill.

In addition to the effect on their income, more than a third of construction workers said they feel guilty having time off, so continue to work.

Similarly, even though 44% of healthcare workers get paid above statutory sick pay, more than a third still go into work ill, citing guilt as the primary reason for this.

A staggeringly high 81% of healthcare workers said they fear having to take time off work due to illness in case their boss’s impression of them changes.

Meanwhile, employees in the performing arts industry are most likely to go into work when ill – a huge 94% of them confessed to this. The majority receive no sick pay, meaning that if they can’t perform they won’t get paid. This all raises serious concerns about their safety while at work.

Brits can’t afford to take time off sick

The average person takes 8.5 days off sick per year, although they continue to work for 9.5 days when they are still ill.

Employees at large companies are most scared to take time off. Almost three quarters said they feared the loss of income they would suffer if they remained at home when sick, while those who work for medium-sized businesses felt their boss’s attitude towards them changed after a period off ill.

Those within micro businesses are most at risk in monetary terms, receiving the least support when ill, and employees aged over 55 within all industries also feel particularly vulnerable financially whilst on sick leave.

Andrew Cullwick at First4lawyers added: “In terms of what employers can do now to support their staff, schemes that give discounted gym membership, access to health care and other medical services are a great way to show that a company cares about the well-being of their staff.

“Fit and healthy employees are the life-blood of business and the UK economy. Businesses shouldn’t be just thinking about the whether they pay sick employees but how they can keep their staff fit and well and what they need to do to help them recover.”

Whether it’s the impact on their reputation or their paycheque, it seems Brits across various industries can’t afford to take time off sick as a result of current employment law, despite the effect it has on their health and safety at work.


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