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TUC warns of thousands being cast into poverty if forced to self-isolate without support

THOUSANDS of workers will be cast into poverty if they are forced to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid-19 and live on statutory sick pay (SSP), the TUC warns today.

The union federation said the government’s test and trace system will fail unless sick pay is increased drastically for workers who have to self-isolate as testing is stepped up.

The union organisation is calling for SSP to increase from a pitiful £95.85 a week to the real living wage of £320.

At present, 9.6 million workers are “furloughed” from their jobs under the government’s job retention scheme. The furlough scheme ends on October 31.

Research carried out for the TUC has found that 43 per cent of those furloughed will not have enough money to live on if they are forced to self-isolate again. Some could not survive for two weeks.

Two million workers are not entitled to even SSP because their employers do not pay them enough to qualify for it.

Most of the workers at risk are women, the TUC said. Self-employed workers are also excluded from any sick pay. 

TUC has called the lack of decent sick pay is a “massive flaw” in the government’s testing and tracing programme, with workers forced to choose between following health advice and paying their bills.

The organisation is calling on the government to extend increased SSP to all workers, introduce support for households in difficulty, overhaul universal credit, increase local authority hardship funds, and support people struggling with council tax and rent.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all want NHS test and trace to work. It’s crucial for stopping the spread of Covid-19 and for getting our economy back on its feet. 

“But the lack of decent sick pay puts everything at risk. Asking workers to self-isolate on £96 a week is not viable — especially when many don’t have savings to fall back on. 

“We can’t have a situation where people are forced to choose between their health and paying their bills.”

Bakers’ union BFAWU general secretary Sarah Woolley told the Star: “Covid has highlighted what trade unions have been saying for years, SSP is not fit for purpose.

“That is why along with a number of other trade unions and ‘Don’t Leave, Organise’ we launched a campaign yesterday to call for the government to legislate for full rights to at least six weeks of contractual sick pay for all workers from day one.”

Ms Woolley added that the workers should be paid 100 per cent of their wages, funded by employers and the legislation should cover those on zero-hour or short-term contracts along with an increased rate of SSP for 28 weeks. 

“It’s not right that workers are plunged into poverty because they are unwell at a time when they need more support and this campaign will help to provide that,” she said.

Meanwhile, shop workers’ union Usdaw has called for government support for the retail industry after new analysis revealed that more than 125,000 high street jobs have been axed during the pandemic.

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “What retail needs is a tripartite approach of unions, employers and government working together to develop a recovery plan.”

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