Jonathan Gullis: ‘Reform Statutory Sick Pay to boost the economy’

As a Conservative, I believe hard work should pay. It makes me proud that there are over 4 million more people in work since 2010.

Despite this welcome progress, many workers who suffer a short-term illness or develop a more serious health condition don’t get the support they need due to the UK’s low levels of sick pay.

That’s why I am calling for the government to reform sick pay. Currently, there are around two million hardworking people who do not get any sick pay. Around one third of all workers get the legal minimum Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Overwhelmingly, these people tend to be in lower paid jobs with little savings to fall back on. Many are our nation’s unsung heroes – cleaners, couriers and hospital staff – who carried the nation through the pandemic.

This is an estimated 10 million people who do not get the benefits of proper support when they are of sick. They don’t get paid at all for the first three days and will average under £3 per hour thereafter.

This leads many to have to choose between coming to work sick or struggling to pay the bills. People from all walks of life who just want to get on with their recovery and get back to work. I’ve heard from care workers who caught Covid and had to isolate with no sick pay and young cancer patients who struggled with the costs of travelling to hospital for treatment. International evidence finds that low sick pay can cause worsening health outcomes, increased sickness absence in the long term and higher rates of presenteeism amongst workers. This has a significant impact on individuals, businesses and the Exchequer.

Being sick is part of working life. I believe that it’s essential that employers give employees enough time to recover and recuperate before getting back to work. The government’s new Back to Work Plan is looking to get over 1 million people with long-term health conditions, disabilities or long-term unemployment back to work.

This will help people in constituencies like Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke stay healthy, get off benefits and into work. This includes the expansion of NHS Talking Therapies, Individual Placement and support, Restart and Universal Support alongside stricter benefit sanctions by the DWP for able people who refuse to go to the Jobcentre.

But we can do more. Our ambition to get more people off benefits risks being held back by the challenge of more people dropping out the workforce.

Of this cohort, around half a million people who are long-term sick want to get back to work. But regressive SSP will quickly lead them back onto benefits.

The Safe Sick Pay campaign, of which I am a member, has the backing of a cross-party cohort of MPs, FTSE100 companies including Legal & General, Unison and many health charities. We are calling on the government to reform sick pay to better suit the 21st century workforce.

Consensus is building around three particular common sense reforms. We want to remove the waiting days for sick pay to ensure employees are paid from day one. In addition, we want to remove the Lower Earnings Limit so all employees can get paid when they are sick. Finally, we want to see the weekly amount SSP is paid at raised.

I’ve been convinced by the wealth of evidence both here in the UK and internationally that decent sick pay means healthy and productive employees. These reforms will be instrumental in ensuring people have enough time to rest, recover and return to work. Crucially, this will reduce the chance of prolonged absence because people have adequate time to recover properly.

Giving hard working people a financial safety net if they fall ill benefits workforce health and has significant economic benefits too. Indeed, a report from WPI Economics suggests that the UK economy be boosted by £4.1 billion if these reforms were introduced.

As a Conservative, I believe that hard work should pay. But our party has a proud tradition of compassion that strives to find the right balance.

A new start on SSP is the next step in our journey to achieve this. is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.