Statutory Sick Pay Report article

Statutory Sick Pay reform could boost UK economy by £3.9bn, landmark research from Unum reveals

  • Unum UK will unveil a study in Parliament today with recommendations on how to overhaul Britain’s broken Statutory Sick Pay system, which is 40 years old this year, and introduce Statutory Sickness Support
  • Research conducted for Unum by WPI Economics projects reforms could benefit our economy by up to £3.9 billion over the next five years, along with £1.3 billion in Exchequer savings.
  • Unum is calling on government to deliver a ‘shot in the arm’ for workplace health and unlock £500m in new funding for smaller firms to level up mental and physical health support for staff.

London, 19 May 2022: The UK economy could get a £3.9bn boost over the next five years if the government reforms the 40-year-old Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) system, a landmark report from leading employee benefits provider, Unum UK, will reveal today. The research, conducted by WPI Economics, informed Unum UK’s proposal to deliver new investment in the health and wellbeing of Britain’s workforce. 

SSP was introduced in the early 1980s but has gone largely unreformed, failing to reflect changes in the way we all live and work. Workers on SSP currently receive £99.35 a week. Around two million workers – 70% of them women – do not qualify for SSP.

Research data estimates the current system directly costs the Exchequer £850 million annually in lost taxation and increased benefit spending. In the wider economy, ill health that prevented employees from working cost the economy £130 billion a year before the pandemic.

Statutory Sickness Support, launched today, proposes a fundamental overhaul, moving from a system focused purely on payments, to one that is designed to deliver proactive and effective employee support. 

Statutory Sickness Support would address the current sick pay system by:

  • widening eligibility, so all workers are protected;
  • bringing the rules up to date, to accommodate flexible working;
  • simplifying calculation and administration for employers; and
  • strengthening the safety net to reduce ‘income shocks’ and alleviate poverty.

Unum’s proposed reforms would boost the average ‘replacement rate’ (the proportion of salary covered by SSP) for workers on SSP from 28% of earnings under the current system to 63%, with the majority of the benefits going to workers earning less than £25,000 a year.

Alongside overhauling sick pay to better protect workers, Statutory Sickness Support can help employers with more guidance on how to prevent and manage employee sickness. Unum is calling on government to:

  • provide targeted guidance and support for employers;
  • introduce a new conditional sick pay rebate for small businesses who do the right thing; and
  • launch a £500 million fund to deliver a ‘shot in the arm’ for SME investment in health at work.

Based on conservative estimates, modelling conducted for Unum by WPI Economics estimates potential benefits of Statutory Sickness Support to the economy of up to £3.9 billion over the next five years, as well as direct savings to the Exchequer up to £1.3 billion.

Unum is calling on policymakers to introduce Statutory Sickness Support as soon as possible to improve the health and productivity of Britain’s workforce.

Mark Till, CEO of Unum UK, said:

“Tackling sickness absence should be a top priority. Statutory Sick Pay is a 40-year-old system that’s really showing its age: it offers no protection at all for the lowest-paid workers and misses the opportunity to promote early intervention and empower employers to deliver the right support for their employees to stay in or get back to work.

We call on the government to introduce Statutory Sickness Support to level up the health and wellbeing of Britain’s workforce and power the high-skilled growth our economy needs.”

Nick Pahl, CEO at The Society of Occupational Medicine commented:

“I welcome support for employers’ investment in health at work - there is a need to ‘level up’ access to occupational health, as large employers are five times more likely to have access than those in SMEs”

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy and Research at Business Disability Forum added:

“The importance of the work and research in this study cannot be over-stated. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is one of the main urgent issues causing widening workplace health inequalities and it has had far too little political attention to date. 

We have seen many large employers pick up the cost of a poor SSP system to prevent employees experiencing financial disadvantage, but this has become harder since the pandemic. Workers employed by smaller businesses experience greater financial disadvantage and, as this study highlights, poverty. This sadly too often makes small businesses a less attractive employment option for workers, who are increasingly mindful of the importance of sickness and pay benefits when choosing an employer. 

We cannot Level Up the country, address increasing intersectional health inequalities, or harness the Government’s commitment to increase flexible work options unless we urgently remodel the SSP system. We hope this study will propel them to do so, now.” 

Martin McTague, FSB National Chair, commented:

“The proposals for a new rebate for small employers will help back all those who employ staff with disabilities and other health conditions.

There is huge potential for positive-sum solutions that work well for small firms and their staff. As Unum has made clear, this brings large benefits to the Exchequer as well. 

It is everyday small businesses who deliver most on inclusive employment – a rebate would help support entrepreneurs to do this even more.”

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