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14 August, 2020 Open access

Current rate of statutory sick pay creates financial disincentive to self-isolate, says Royal Society

New report highlights public health risk as workers with mild coronavirus symptoms forced to continue working

The current rate of statutory sick pay (SSP) creates a financial disincentive for workers to self-isolate, according to a new report from the Royal Society.

In Economic Aspects of the COVID-19 Crisis in the UK, published today, DELVE - a multi-disciplinary team convened by the Royal Society - argues that economic interventions can be used to stave off both a second coronavirus (COVID-19) peak and a further recession.

However, stressing the importance of paying attention to the way in which the impacts of different strategies are distributed across regions, sectors and age groups, the report highlights that policy instruments such as SSP alter the trade-offs that individuals face and affect their decision-making, and that -

'... current sick pay arrangements create a financial disincentive to self-isolate, thereby forcing many workers to continue working with mild coronavirus symptoms that in turn makes it more difficult to control the transmission of virus.'

NB - in addition, amongst other targeted, sector-specific interventions, the report calls for -

Commenting on the report, Sir Tim Besley, Professor of Economics and Political Science at the London School of Economics and a member of the DELVE initiative, said -

'Pitting health and economic outcomes against each other is unhelpful. It is wrong to assume that the only way to get the economy back on its feet is through an excessive loosening of restrictions. Targeted policies that are sensitive both to the spread of the disease and economic costs are needed.

While physical distancing measures negatively impact certain businesses, there are adaptations we can make to our ways of doing business. An optimal public health strategy will complement economic recovery while minimising the risk of a resurgence of the epidemic. By taking the right measures to protect health - for example by getting test-track-isolate right and introducing more than the minimum statutory sick pay for those who don’t have it – we open up many more doors for businesses that can keep people working and assist in containing the spread of the disease.'

For more information, see Delve report: abrupt lockdown lift risks higher death toll from royalsociety.org