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A Labour government would bolster statutory sick pay and ensure that it is paid by employers from the first day off work, deputy leader Angela Rayner has announced.
Rayner, addressing the Trades Union Congress gathering in Liverpool, confirmed that if the party wins the general election expected next year it would address the UK’s level of statutory sick pay, currently the lowest of all OECD countries.
“The next Labour government will strengthen and increase statutory sick pay, make it available to all workers by removing the lower earnings limit, which cuts out those on low wages, and remove the waiting period which currently means workers can only access it from day four of sickness,” she told the TUC event.
The announcement is part of Labour’s wider “New Deal For Working People”, which includes measures such as extending statutory maternity and paternity leave, banning fire and rehire, introducing a new “right to disconnect” and reversing anti-union legislation from 2016 and earlier this year.
Amanda Walters, director of the Centre for Progressive Change, welcomed the announcement. “With economic inactivity due to illness reported at record levels today, a step change in sick pay could help stop workers managing long-term conditions dropping out of employment,” she said.
The worsening health of the UK population has led to rising rates of both short-term sickness absence from work, and health-related inactivity in the working age population.
Official data released on Tuesday showed that the number of people who are not working or looking for work because of a long-term health condition reached a record high of 2.6mn in the latest three-month period.
Rayner was last week given the job of shadow levelling-up secretary in a reshuffle by leader Sir Keir Starmer, meaning that planning and housing are now part of her brief.
“Labour has a plan to fix the housing crisis by building more homes, homes people can afford to live in with priority given to local people — and yes, that means more council houses,” she said. “The Tories are no longer the party of home ownership. That’s Labour.”
The party has said it would increase the stamp duty paid by foreign buyers of UK property while also restricting the sale of new-build properties to overseas investors under plans being drawn up for the party’s general election manifesto.
The party is also drawing up plans that would force landowners to sell plots for a fraction of their potential market price when acquired by councils through compulsory purchase orders in an effort to cut homebuilding costs in England.
“Good jobs and homes are the foundations of good lives and communities. And it’s a Labour government that will provide those foundations and build on them, whilst also empowering communities and local leaders to create strong, sustainable economies,” Rayner told conference delegates.
Some unions have criticised Labour for watering down parts of its employment reform package at the party’s recent national policy forum in July. The party has diluted its 2021 pledge to create a single status of “worker” for all but the genuinely self-employed.
The party agreed that once in government it would consult on the policy to consider how “a simpler framework” that differentiates between workers and the genuinely self-employed “could properly capture the breadth of employment relationships in the UK”.
But Rayner, a former officer for public sector union Unison, said the party would also “work hand in hand with trade unions as we will work with business to deliver a real partnership based on respect co-operation and negotiation”.