Opposition MPs and unions have blasted the government over the decision to increase statutory sick pay (SSP) by just 50p per week, despite evidence that low sick pay could prevent some people from isolating if they have Covid symptoms.
SSP increased from £95.85 to £96.35 a week from Tuesday, but unions say it is too little to live on.
A recent study published in the BMJ found that less than 25 per cent of people with symptoms requested a test, and only half self-isolate.
Researchers from the study said that financial hardship is one of the main reasons people feel unable to self-isolate, because they don’t qualify for SSP, or it isn’t enough to live on.
‘An insult to workers’
On Twitter, shadow chancellor Annaliese Dodds said: “Last March the Health Secretary confessed that Statutory Sick Pay wasn't enough to live on. Back then it was £94.25. Today it goes up to...£96.35.”
She added: "The Chancellor has had over a year to build a stronger safety net. Instead he’s actually cut sick pay in real terms.
Labour MP for Hemsworth, Jon Trickett, described the 50p rise as an “insult to every worker who carried this country on their backs throughout this pandemic”.
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "No one should be plunged into hardship if they need to self-isolate, but more than a year into this pandemic many workers still don't have access to decent sick pay.
"Today's miserly increase will do nothing to help people who get Covid. Statutory sick pay is just too little to live on.
"Ministers have the power to make self-isolation effective overnight and cut transmission immediately.
"They need to raise statutory sick pay to the level of the real Living Wage, and make sure everyone can get it.
"The Government's failure to act is undermining our public health effort and could lead to a rebound in infections as hospitality and retail outlets reopen."
The TUC said the UK has one of the lowest rates of sick pay in Europe, while nearly two million workers do not earn enough to qualify for it - most of them women.
Workers receiving statutory maternity, paternity, adoption or additional paternity pay and the self-employed are not eligible to receive SSP, said the TUC.
Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, said: "Time and again the Government has been told that people will not isolate without a living income.
"They just can't afford two weeks without a wage. Unless and until the Government addresses the scandalously low level of sick pay provision in this country, any scheme to reopen the economy that rests on isolation but without income is half-baked and will fail."
A Government spokesman said: "There is a comprehensive package of financial support in place for workers who need to self-isolate to help stop the spread of coronavirus - including a £500 payment for those on the lowest incomes who have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
"Many employers pay more than the minimum level of statutory sick pay and employers with up to 250 staff can be reimbursed the cost of up to a fortnight's statutory sick pay."
Additional reporting by PA.