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Sick pay reform needed to successfully ‘live with Covid’, according to IPPR and UCL

Report calls for improvements to employment conditions, recognising the key link between work and healthy lives

The UK’s low rates and limited eligibility for statutory sick pay could put our ability to ‘live with Covid-19’ at risk, according to researchers at the IPPR think tank. As we move toward a new phase of the pandemic, a new IPPR report warns that people will find it increasingly difficult to self-isolate in keeping with guidelines due to low sick pay combined with the cost of living crisis.

The think tank also warns that while UK statutory sick pay is set at amongst the lowest rates in Europe, too many workers are going without any protection at all. New analysis, conducted by the Virus Watch study at UCL and shared with IPPR for the report, shows that many people are not even able to access basic levels of sick pay and that the most vulnerable groups are being unfairly impacted the most:

Poorer households are more likely to lack access to sick pay – households earning less than £25,000 are around twice as likely to lack access to any sick pay compared to households earning above £75,000.

Older workers are more likely to lack access to sick pay – workers aged over 65 are five times, and workers 45-64 around two times, more likely to lack access to sick pay compared to younger workers (25-44 year olds).

There is a class disparity in access to sick pay – people working in jobs traditionally considered working class are more likely to lack access to sick pay. People working in outdoor trades, such as farming and construction, are five times more likely to lack access to sick pay than managers and senior officials. People working in manufacturing, manual trades, beauty, transportation and catering are also around twice as likely to lack access to sick pay.

There is a racial disparity in access to sick pay – South Asian workers are around 40 per cent more likely to lack access to sick pay than white British workers. This disparity cannot be explained by income, occupation or employment status, suggesting institutional racism plays a part.

The report calls for the government to expand access to sick pay by abolishing the lower earnings limit and increase the statutory replacement rate to 80 per cent of previous earnings in keeping with several European countries.

As people return to the office, IPPR also calls on the government to recognise the link between work and health, and work towards creating a post-pandemic world of work with more good quality jobs, with healthier conditions, hours and environments.

The pandemic showed how linked work and health are, as new IPPR analysis of ONS data reveals that people in jobs traditionally considered working class were twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than those in jobs considered middle class. Lower paid occupations have also experienced the highest Covid-19 mortality rates (see notes).

IPPR urges the government to learn from the pandemic and start considering economic and employment policy as health policy by improving working conditions and tackling leading determinants of health, such as low-pay and job insecurity. The report says, “it is important for the government to not simply focus on the quantity of work, as it has been doing, but equally on the quality of the work.”

Dr Parth Patel, IPPR and UCL research fellow, said:

“We all want to put the pandemic behind us, but the reality is that we need to understand how to successfully ‘live with Covid'. If we don’t, there is a real risk Covid-19 becomes an endemic disease of disparity, primarily circulating among poor and minority ethnic communities.

“Sick pay rates in the UK are among the lowest in the developed world, but until now it has been very poorly understood which workers actually lack access to any sick pay whatsoever. The class, race and age disparities in sick pay access revealed by this new analysis risk entrenching the inequalities exposed by the pandemic and constraining the UK’s ability to ‘live with Covid’.

“As the cost of living crisis takes hold, it will only become harder for people to isolate, which makes it even more important that the government acts now to raise sick pay and make it available to all workers.”


Dr Parth Patel and Carsten Jung are available for interview


David Wastell, Director of News and Communications: 07921 403651

Robin Harvey, Senior Digital and Media Officer: 07779 204798


  1. The IPPR paper, A healthy labour market: Creating a post-pandemic world of healthier work by Parth Patel and Carsten Jung, will be published at 0001 on Friday 4 February. It will be available for download at:
  2. Methodology: a multivariable logistic regression analysis based on 8,874 workers in England and Wales was conducted by the taxpayer-funded Virus Watch study team at UCL. The academic pre-print paper (not yet peer-reviewed) from can be found here:
  3. People in jobs traditionally considered working class occupations being twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than those in jobs considered middle class
  4. Healthier jobs and healthier institutions proposals:
    To kickstart this drive to healthier post-pandemic workplaces, IPPR proposes focusing on delivering both healthier jobs and healthier institutions. Healthier jobs are those that pay at least the real living wage; provide stable working hours and offer a worker-in-control approach to flexible working, among other proposals.

IPPR says that healthier institutions are organisations, like unions and government bodies, that have the ability to shape the labour market and use this power to improve population health. The report argues trade unions have been overlooked as public health institutions, and that the government should trial trade union auto-enrolment in the gig economy, building on the success of pension auto-enrolment. The report also calls on the Treasury to focus on economic policies that boost health, such as pushing for full employment.

  1. IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.