New study offers further proof: sick pay saves lives

A new study from the United States has found that emergency legislation to pay workers full sick pay has prevented hundreds of thousands of Covid infections and saved thousands of lives.

Unique among OECD countries, the USA has no statutory sick pay system. Realising that this could force infectious workers into work and turn many workplaces into Covid hotspots, Donald Trump signed off on emergency legislation on 19 March. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act grants around 20 million workers in middle-sized businesses two weeks full paid leave if they need to isolate.

Epidemiologists have found that this measure has prevented about 400 cases a day per state, equivalent to about 600,000 new cases.

There are many problems with the FFCRA provision. It only covers workers in medium sized businesses and only for two weeks leave. Many larger US employers have their own occupational sick pay schemes but many, like Amazon, do not. Most worrying, even this limited provision is due to end next month just as Coronavirus cases are soaring.

Next to the US, the UK’s statutory sick pay scheme of just £95.85 a week is the lowest in the developed world. But unlike Donald Trump’s administration, the UK government has made almost no attempt to ease the financial burden of isolation despite being aware of this problem since March.

A £500 isolation support payment was introduced 7 months into the pandemic and after the UK had already suffered over 40,000 excess deaths. However, tens of millions of workers are ineligible for the payment and the application process is so complicated that the Resolution Foundation claims “almost no one” has received it.

The new research suggests that thousands of lives could have been saved if the UK government had ensured full sick pay for all workers, like in Germany and some other EU states. Thousands of lives can still be saved if the government acts on this issue now.

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