The spread of the coronavirus has become a public health crisis in the UK and across the globe. Our overriding objective must be to limit the spread of the virus as much as possible and a crucial part of that effort will be self-isolation.
Government advice is that those with one or both of the tell-tale signs – a continuous dry cough or a temperature over 37.8 – must self isolate for seven days if you live alone or if you live with others everyone in the household should self isolate for fourteen days.
Everyone else should, where possible, practice social distancing. This is to limit the spread of the disease.
For this strategy to be successful, workers who show symptoms of coronavirus must be able to afford to take time off work.
I am deeply concerned that encouraging people to self-isolate will be a particular challenge in the UK, because we have the second-lowest level of statutory sick pay in Europe. Across the whole of Europe, only Malta has a lower rate than we do.
In this context, workers are being asked to make a choice between avoiding financial hardship and safeguarding public health. Minimum wage workers may be sacrificing as much as £200 a week in pay to take time off work and self-isolate.
What’s more, millions of people don’t reach the minimum income threshold to even qualify for statutory sick pay, and millions more who are on zero-hours contracts or self-employed don’t qualify either.
It is not too late for the government to act and I believe it is in the interests of public health that they do so urgently. I am urging Boris Johnson to act to bring sick pay in line with average pay and make it available for all workers. And for those workers affected by social distancing and damage to the economy, their pay must be protected throughout this crisis.
This crisis is going to require substantial action to protect workers and businesses. The time has come to act.