16th August 2021
If not now, when?
It’s been a couple of weeks now since the government published its long-awaited response to the ‘Health is everyone’s business’ consultation it launched back in 2019. But I must confess that, despite those couple of weeks, I’m still trying to get my head around the government’s response that now is not the right time to introduce changes to the SSP system.
Surely, after the 18 months we’ve just gone through, now is exactly the time to change the SSP system.
The consultation sought views on reforming SSP so that it would be available to all employees that need it, that it was more flexible in supporting returns to work, and was underpinned by a suitable enforcement framework.
And it must be said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the government itself acknowledged, improved access to SSP was one of the ways the government offered support to both employees and employers. There was extended eligibility of SSP to employees who were self-isolating in line with public health advice; a temporary suspension of waiting days which made SSP payable from the first day of a coronavirus-related sickness absence; and the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme went some way to helping employers manage the increased costs of COVID-related absences.
After all these interventions, introduced very quickly I might add, why doesn’t the government think now is the time to make any changes to the SSP scheme?
When the initial consultation was launched I met with a group of employers and payroll providers to explore whether the government’s proposals would help both employers and employees, and the overwhelming response was favourable. Especially flexible SSP, that workers who are ready to return to work, but who can’t yet cope with a full working week, can have a phased return, where they are paid normally for the hours they are working, but then receive SSP for the hours and days that they can’t yet work.
The consultation also proposed that the link between the LEL and eligibility for SSP be removed, and that SSP is available to all employees, though those below the LEL would be paid 80% of the weekly rate so they weren’t better off being off sick than working.
It was interesting that, despite the extra work that would undoubtedly follow from both these proposals, monitoring absences and working periods, the payroll practitioners I met with were widely supportive of these suggestions. As it would seem, were provided formal responses to the consultation. Yet still, the government believes now is not the right time.
I can only repeat a phrase that is becoming rather well-worn now …if not now, when?