The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), a part of the Council of Europe, has declared that statutory sick pay is inadequate in the UK and breaches EU law. The committee also ruled that other protections for the unemployed and self-employed were also deficient and in breach of EU law.
Ruling: Statutory Sick Pay Is Inadequate
The ECSR report looks at the 3 year period from the 1st January 2012 to the 31st December 2015. It found that statutory sick pay is inadequate in the UK in terms of the protection it offers employees during a sickness absence. It held that: “The Committee concludes that the situation in the United Kingdom is not in conformity with Article 12 section 1 of the 1961 European Social Charter on the grounds that:
- the level of the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is inadequate
- the minimum levels of the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) are inadequate
- the level of long-term incapacity benefits is inadequate
- the level of unemployment benefits is inadequate.“
In reaching this conclusion, the Committee found that employees who were off work sick were receiving less than 40% of the median income in the UK.
The ECSR also found that the social protections offered to the unemployed were also inadequate and in breach of EU law. As with sick employees, the unemployed also receive less than 40% of the median income in the UK.
In relation to both sick employees and the unemployed, the ECSR concluded that: “regardless of the additional social assistance benefits which might be available, the committee considers that the level of these benefits is manifestly inadequate.” Accordingly, it held that the UK was in breach of Article 12 of the European Social Charter (i.e. the right to social security) and article 13 of the European Social Charter (i.e. the right to social and medical assistance).
The Self-Employed: Health & Safety
Back on the 1st October 2015, the Government somewhat foolishly introduced the Deregulation Act 2015, which amended the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This removed the requirement for the self-employed in so-called low risk occupations who have no employees and present no risk to others apart from themselves, from the general requirement to protect themselves and others from risks to their health and safety. The changes were opposed not only by the TUC, but also by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and others. At the time, Richard Jones, the head of policy and public affairs at the IOSH stated: “we remain strongly of the view that it would be far easier and clearer to leave the law as it currently stands and has stood for 40 years without a problem. We firmly believe this exemption proposal is unnecessary, unhelpful and unwise.” The word “unlawful” should now be added to these prophetic words, as the ECSR have now confirmed in their report that the changes imposed by the Deregulation Act 2015 breach EU law as they had created a “discriminatory” system. The ECSR stated that this was because: “all workers, including the self-employed, must be covered by health and safety at work regulations as long as employed and self-employed workers are normally exposed to the same risks.”