South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has pleaded with the UK Government to boost the level of statutory sick pay or risk more lives being lost during the coronavirus pandemic.
The local MSP is being contacted by a growing number of constituents facing financial difficulties because they have had to self-isolate and their employment contract means they are only being paid statutory sick pay of £94.25 per week instead of their normal wages.
The MSP is concerned that the financial pressures facing some people who don’t have symptoms of coronavirus but who should self-isolate because a family member does, means they will be going to work rather than following advice to self-isolate for at least 14 days for fear they won’t be able to pay the household bills.
Mr Smyth fears that in particular, those with underlying health conditions who should self-isolate for a long period could be putting themselves at risk by going to work because without their salary they cannot afford to spend weeks and possibly months on statutory sick pay.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact so few people are being tested for Covid-19 so people don’t know if they are carrying the virus or not.
Colin Smyth believes testing those with symptoms and their household would allow those who tested negative to get back to work immediately.
Colin Smyth has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak pleading with the UK Government to increase the Statutory Sick Pay to above £94.25 per week to ensure those who do self-isolate do not face financial hardship.
If the UK Government fail to act he is urging the Scottish Government to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to bring in a higher level of Statutory Sick Pay in Scotland.
The local MSP is also urging the Scottish Government to step up testing and test as many of the people with symptoms, and their family members, as possible so people can return to work if they are negative and carrying out essential work or benefit from having their wages paid because their employer has asked them to stay at home.
Colin Smyth said: “I am deeply concerned at the growing number of people who have contacted me worried about the financial hardship they are facing as a result of losing their weekly wage packet and having to rely on statutory sick pay.
“An increasing number of people are doing the right thing by self-isolating as they or a family member develop symptoms. But if their company only pays statutory sick pay which is just £94.25 per week, this means more and more will face financial hardship. We should not be making people have to choose between self-isolating or paying the bills.
“My deep fear is that some people without symptoms, who should be self-isolating, will be going out to work because they are struggling financially and that will spread the virus further.
“I am pleading with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase the current paltry level of statutory sick pay. If he won’t act then the Scottish Government should pass emergency legislation to bring in a higher level of Sick Pay in Scotland. They should also increase testing to allow those people who test negatively to go to work if they have to and are carrying out essential work.
“Without firm action there is no doubt that more lives will be lost.”