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‘Living with Covid-19’: changes to free testing, Statutory Sick Pay and Employment and Support Allow

In its ‘COVID-19 Response: Living with COVID-19’, the UK Government has set out its plans for removing the remaining legal restrictions relating to Covid-19.

From 1 April 2022, the Government will no longer provide free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public in England.

Bectu has expressed concern over the potential ramifications for the creative sector. Many creative workers can’t socially distance in their roles, increasing the risk of Covid-19 spreading within venues and putting productions at risk of closure or operating with reduced staff – during which our members may be asked to cover several vacancies or work untenable hours to keep productions open.

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said:

“The removal of free Covid tests poses a real threat to the safe and continued operation of venues, and the safety of staff who work in them.

“We only need to look back to last December to see how Covid-19 outbreaks can have a devastating impact on shows’ ability to stay open.

“In the context of a wider skills shortage threatening the sector, this demonstrates once again why the Government should be doing everything it can to enable people to test frequently and keep shows running safely for both staff and the public. Continuing to provide free lateral flow tests would help alleviate both workers’ and customers’ uncertainty and allow the sector to continue to operate with confidence.”

What is SSP and what’s changing?

The Government has also announced changes to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and Employment and Support Allowance, including an end to day-one access to SSP, effective from 1 April 2022. After that point, workers suffering from Covid-related illness will have to wait until their fourth day of illness to qualify for SSP.

SSP is a payment of £96.35 per week that an employer must pay to an employee who is too ill to work. It normally becomes payable from the fourth ‘qualifying day’ (i.e. the fourth day that an employee would normally be required to work) and this has been the case for people with non-Covid-related illnesses throughout the pandemic.

However, people who could not work for Covid-related reasons (i.e. because they were self-isolating due to either their own illness or other reasons) could claim SSP from their first day of absence from work. This change was introduced to encourage people to comply with self-isolation rules. The only exception was for people who were self-isolating after entering/returning to the UK and who weren’t self-isolating for any other reason.

The TUC has condemned the move, saying that it affects the rights of 7.8 million workers relying on it. They have also taken the opportunity to highlight the UK’s very poor sick-pay provision – amongst the lowest in Europe – and press for improvements.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The failure to provide decent sick pay to all – from the first day of illness – is reckless and self-defeating. If people can’t afford to stay home when they’re sick, they will take their infections into work. Ministers’ inability to grasp this fact will leave the UK vulnerable to future variants and pandemics.”

From 1 April, ESA will only be available from the eighth day for people who have a disability or health condition that affects how much they can work. Prior to these changes, during the Covid-19 pandemic, this benefit was also available from day one onwards.

Are you a freelancer? Know what you are entitled to

Bectu’s freelance members should understand that SSP is something that they may not be entitled to.

In some cases, people who call themselves freelancers may be working on a short PAYE contract where they have a pay-packet and all of the employment rights that one would expect to have in the early days of an employment contract. These workers will qualify for SSP, but many others won’t.

SSP is certainly paid to people who have Employee Status in employment law terms (i.e they work under a contract of employment). This becomes a lot more complicated for someone with Worker status, and while there are some circumstances in which they can claim SSP from an employer, it is very likely that they won’t qualify because they are paid ‘gross’ (i.e. their employer doesn’t deduct Tax or National Insurance Contributions (NICs) from their pay-packet – and crucially, the employer doesn’t pay Class One (i.e. Employers) NICs either). Low Income Tax Group has a detailed briefing on this issue.

For more information please see the Government’s guidance document.


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