The Budget announces measures to support people who are unable to work because of COVID-19.
Eligibility for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) – The Prime Minister has already announced that the forthcoming COVID-19 Bill will temporarily allow SSP to be paid from the first day of sickness absence, rather than the fourth day, for people who have COVID-19 or have to self‑isolate, in accordance with government guidelines. The Budget sets out a further package to widen the scope of SSP and make it more accessible. The government will temporarily extend SSP to cover:
- individuals who are unable to work because they have been advised to self-isolate
- people caring for those within the same household who display COVID-19 symptoms and have been told to self-isolate
Medical Evidence for SSP – The government has already issued guidance to employers, advising them to use their discretion not to require a GP fit note for COVID-19 related absences. This Budget announces that the government and the NHS will bring forward a temporary alternative to the fit note in the coming weeks which can be used for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak. This system will enable people who are advised to self-isolate to obtain a notification via NHS111 which they can use as evidence for absence from work, where necessary. This notification would meet employers’ need for evidence, whilst taking pressure away from General Practices.
Support for those ineligible for SSP – The government recognises that self-employed people and employees below the Lower Earnings Limit are not entitled to SSP. The best system of financial support for these people is the welfare system and, in particular, ‘new style’ Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit. The government is committed to supporting these groups, and the Budget announces further support by making it quicker and easier to receive benefits:
- ‘New style’ Employment and Support Allowance will be payable for people directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating according to government advice for from the first day of sickness, rather than the eighth day
- people will be able to claim Universal Credit and access advance payments where they are directly affected by COVID-19 (or self-isolating), without the current requirement to attend a jobcentre
- for the duration of the outbreak, the requirements of the minimum income floor in Universal Credit will be temporarily relaxed for those directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating according to government advice for duration of the outbreak, ensuring self‑employed claimants will be compensated for losses in income
Hardship Fund – The government will provide Local Authorities in England with £500 million of new grant funding to support economically vulnerable people and households in their local area. The government expects most of this funding to be used to provide more council tax relief, either through existing Local Council Tax Support schemes, or through complementary reliefs.