• International Workplace
  • 6 February 2018

UK sick pay fails to meet legal requirements

Statutory sick pay and employment and support allowance in the UK do not meet the requirements of EU law, according to the Council of Europe’s European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR).

A report by the Committee finds that both these and other benefits are “manifestly inadequate”.  

As regards sickness, all employees earning at least £112 (€158) per week are covered by Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), a contributory benefit which is paid from the fourth day of incapacity and up to 28 weeks. Workers, including the self-employed, who do not qualify for SSP or have exhausted their entitlement to it can claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA). ESA can be awarded on the basis of either National Insurance (NI) contributions (contributory ESA (ESA(C)) or low income (income-related ESA (ESA (IR)).

The Committee commented:

“The rates of SSP, as well as the minimum levels of ESA, are lower than 40% of the median equivalised income. Accordingly, regardless of the additional social assistance benefits which might be available, the Committee considers that the level of these benefits is manifestly inadequate.”

The report also addresses the Unemployment Scheme, which was amended in 2013, with the introduction of the New Style Job Seeker Allowance (JSA), a contributory benefit granted for a maximum of 182 days in any period of employment.

The contribution conditions that a claimant needs to satisfy to be entitled to new style JSA are the same as for old style JSA (at least 50 minimum weekly contributions paid or credited in the last two years, of which at least 26 weekly contributions paid in one year). In addition to the contributions requirement, new style JSA claimants are also required to be available for work and search for work for up to 35 hours a week.

The Committee again finds that the minimum levels of the unemployment benefits (New Style JSA and non-contributory benefits) are both below 40% of the median equivalised income, and that at least for people younger than 25 this remains the case even when both contributory and non-contributory benefits are taken together. It accordingly considers that the levels of payment are inadequate.

The Committee concludes that the situation in the United Kingdom is not in conformity with Article 12 section 1 of the 1961 Charter on the grounds that:

  • the level of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is inadequate;
  • the minimum levels of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) are inadequate;
  • the level of long-term incapacity benefits is inadequate; and
  • the level of unemployment benefits is inadequate.

The statutory rates of sick pay, as well as maternity, paternity, shared parental leave and adoption are expected to increase in 2018. From 6 April, statutory sick pay will increase from £89.35 to £92.05. To receive the statutory payment, an employee’s average earnings must be equal to or more than the lower earnings limit of £116.