When asked directly if he could live on statutory sick pay, he replied: “No.”
Statutory sick pay is less than a fifth of the weekly average earnings for British workers, which in December 2019 stood at £544 a week.
Furthermore, many people are not eligible to receive statutory sick pay, such as part time workers who earn less than £118 a week – 70 per cent of whom are women.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) estimates there are two million workers in the UK who are not eligible for SSP.
On the BBC’s Question Time programme on Thursday evening, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady spelt out some of the issues people in the UK face as work dries up due to the impact of the coronavirus.
Speaking to the panel, which included Mr Hancock, she said: “How do we make sure we don’t just bail out the boardrooms?
“We’ve got to bail out workers so they’ve got food to put on the table, [with] children to raise. You know, statutory sick pay, £94 a week, Matt, I think you’d be the first person to say that you couldn’t live on that.”
Question Time host Fiona Bruce then asked the health secretary directly if he could live on it.
“No,” he replied.
“But you expect others to live on it.”
“No,” he said, adding hesitantly: “I think we’ve got to support everybody and support businesses to help support their staff. We want businesses to support their staff, because the best thing is if people stay in employment.”
The statutory sick pay level is under fresh scrutiny as the financial impact of lost wages is a disincentive to stay at home and self-isolate amid the pandemic.
But Mr Hancock suggested the government could announce more on the subject when Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveils new financial measures on Friday to support people during the crisis.
He said: “I’m not going to prejudge what the chancellor’s going to say tomorrow, but all I can say is, mark my words, we will do everything we can to make sure people are supported through this.”
The salary for Cabinet ministers such as Mr Hancock is around £141,500, or £2,700 a week.
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