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As Covid Restrictions End, Offices Have a Sick-Pay Problem

Alex Collinson, an analysis and research officer at the UK’s Trades Union Congress (TUC), points out that the reintroduction of the three-day waiting period means that if someone isolates for five days of a week, they only get paid for two days. “It brings SSP down from £96 a week to £39, which is not enough to live off,” he says. “It’s a massive barrier to doing the right thing.”

The TUC is proposing an increase to around £346 per week, as suggested by the Living Wage Foundation. “When people get sick, they should not be faced with financial hardship for taking time off,” says Collinson. 

The new rules are particularly galling for those who are clinically vulnerable and may struggle to return to the workplace. Alison Crockford works in cybersecurity as an awareness manager and is immunosuppressed due to a kidney transplant. “I would love to go back to the office on a hybrid model, but now that testing and isolation is no longer the norm, it’s far more difficult for me to travel to the office and work safely,” she explains.

“The perception that those with underlying conditions ‘were going to die anyway’ and couldn’t be happy, functioning members of society depresses me,” says the 41-year-old. “The ‘othering’ of anyone who’s not fortunate enough to be completely healthy right now is exhausting.”

Beyond “getting better at not going to work while sick,” no part of England’s plan gives a credible explanation on how the immunocompromised and people with disabilities are meant to live and do their jobs alongside the virus.

“We’ve worked well in the UK for some time to advance ability-status equality in the workplace, but the lifting of these measures takes a step back,” explains Simon Williams, a behavioral scientist at Swansea University. Indeed, data gathered by the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) in mid-March shows that people with disabilities were more likely to think life would never return to normal, and 57 percent are avoiding close contact with those they don’t live with, compared to 41 percent of nondisabled. The majority are spending more time at home too.

Throughout the pandemic, close attention has been paid to the number of Britons who’ve lost their lives to Covid, but less has been paid to those who have lost their health to long Covid. The true impact of this debilitating condition is beginning to come to light. According to self-reported stats from the ONS, 1.3 million Britons are experiencing symptoms lasting longer than four weeks since they were infected, including fatigue, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing. Some 18 percent report that their ability to undertake day-to-day activities has been limited “a lot.”

Needless to say, the impact on businesses has—and will be—monumental. A quarter of British employers cite long Covid as the main cause for long-term health-related absence, in a survey of 804 organizations with over 4.3 million employees by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Some 46 percent have employees with long Covid. The Resolution Foundation think tank suggests there’s a high chance that it’s a contributing factor in the UK’s labor shortage and the “Great Resignation.” The same is true in the US, according to the Brookings Institution.