In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Citizens Advice is urging the Chancellor to shore up protections for millions of workers in Wednesday’s (11th March 2020) budget, including making immediate changes to Universal Credit.

The charity saw three times as many visits to its sick pay advice pages last week compared to the same time last year. It is warning that the current system for sick pay is inadequate to deal with the potential scale of the coronavirus outbreak, and could push many into financial hardship.

Those affected include five million self-employed workers and at least 1.5 million in low-income jobs that fall below the earnings limit to qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP).

Citizens Advice also has growing concerns that the benefits system is ill-equipped to respond quickly to those seeking financial support if they fall unwell or need to self-isolate.

Citizens Advice has written to the Chancellor today and urged him to take the following steps in the Budget:

  • Ensure SSP gives people enough to live on and follow through on the government’s proposal to set the level at 80% of statutory sick pay if they are below the current limit to qualify

  • Shorten the five-week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit and consider waiving national insurance requirements for self-employed people to receive contributory Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said “The growing outbreak is an unprecedented backdrop for this Budget. Coronavirus won’t discriminate between those eligible for sick pay and people who simply cannot afford to fall unwell.”

“We know this is something front of mind for millions of people who could face the impossible choice of working while ill or ignoring guidance to self-isolate.”

“The Chancellor must set out plans to broaden the pool of people eligible for statutory sick pay and ensure that the benefits system can respond flexibly to those who need it. Otherwise millions could fall through the gaps.”