The health secretary, who admitted last year he could not live on the payments, raised the issue at a meeting of the government’s Covid-19 operations committee earlier this week, according to The Times
Increasing statutory sick pay from the current rate of £95.85 could reduce levels of sickness in the workplace, Mr Hancock is said to believe, but the move is being resisted by the Treasury over cost concerns.
Before the Brexit transition period expired, figures showed the UK had one of the lowest levels of sick pay among European Union member states – covering under a quarter of workers’ income.
Self-employed people earning less than £120 per week are not entitled to the payments and in 2018 the European committee of social rights suggested that Britain’s sick pay system was “manifestly inadequate”.
The reports that the health secretary is pushing for an increase in the payments come after repeated calls from scientists and opposition MPs, who have highlighted people are failing to self-isolate during the pandemic due to a lack of financial support.
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has previously warned that low levels of sick pay were the “gaping hole” in the test and trace programme, telling the government it needed “to recognise that our levels of welfare have fallen well behind other countries”.
While some low-paid people are eligible for £500 self-isolation payments, the head of the test and trace scheme Dido Harding admitted in February, when Covid-19 cases were extremely high, that as many as 20,000 people a day were not fully self-isolating after being contacted.
Among several reasons, Baroness Harding outlined that the financial strains of self-isolation — limiting income and earnings for those in insecure jobs – could be a factor for those not properly isolating from the community.
In an appearance on the BBC’s Question Time at the onset of the pandemic, Mr Hancock replied “no” when asked directly whether he could live on the current rate of statutory sick pay.
Responding to the reports, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said:“This isn’t the first time Matt Hancock has raised concerns about the level of statutory sick pay. The health secretary admitted a year ago that he couldn’t live on less than a hundred pounds a week.
“He seems to agree with Labour and trade unions that Britain’s inadequate level of statutory sick pay and broken self-isolation system risks both public health and our economy.
“But the problem is the person making the decisions won’t listen. Instead of improving statutory sick pay in his Budget, the chancellor actually decided to cut it in real terms next year.”
Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, posted on social media: “A year since I asked Matt Hancock on BBC Question Time if he could live on £94pw statutory sick pay. He admitted he could not.
“Now The Times says he’s pressing for higher sick pay. Unbelievable that a year into the pandemic it’s not sorted yet,” she added.
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