The number of people searching for sick pay advice online has surged amid the growing Coronavirus outbreak.
According to Citizens Advice, there were three times as many visits to its sick pay advice pages last week compared to the same time a year ago.
The charity 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 said it 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.
It wrote to the Chancellor urging him to 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.
It also asked the Chancellor to 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.
Dame Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, warned that Coronavirus won’t discriminate between those eligible for sick pay and people who 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,” she said. “The Chancellor must set out plans to broaden the pool of people eligible for SSP and ensure that the benefits system can respond flexibly to those who need it. Otherwise millions could fall through the gaps.”