Unequal access to sick pay can accelerate a pandemic

Women, and workers in jobs done in close contact to others, are less likely to have access to employer-provided sick pay, according to new research.

The UK has the lowest state-provided sick pay across OECD member countries. Typically, this is only about 10% of normal earnings. About three-quarters of UK employees have access to sick pay through their employer, but those in poorer, less stable work relationships are much less likely to have access to employer-provided sick pay. This is one finding in a research study co-authored by Christopher Rauh, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Cambridge. Rauh is also co-founder of the Covid Inequality Project.

The new research will be presented at the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society. In the working paper ‘The Value of Sick Pay’, the research team of Abi Adams-Prassl, Teodora Boneva, Marta Golin, and Christopher Rauh provide an overview of who has access to employer-provided sick pay in the UK and how much it is valued by workers.

The researchers find that a high proportion of people would be willing to sacrifice a large share of their earnings for access to sick pay, while others would not be willing to sacrifice any earnings at all. This suggests that a private insurance market would not be able to function effectively.

Lacking access to sick pay matters beyond those potentially losing their earnings. The research team found that workers without sick pay are much more likely to work when experiencing cold-like symptoms. Rauh says “This is really concerning, considering that during the pandemic, with symptoms one was encouraged to stay at home. However, if an employer does not provide any compensation, some workers will turn up for work when they are ill. That can lead to the spread of infections.”

With these wider effects in mind, the research team carried out an experiment to find out whether support for state provision could be increased. Some respondents to a survey received information about the potential consequences of not having access to sick pay. The authors indeed found that those participants were more likely to support more generous state-provided sick pay for all, when made aware of some people feeling forced to work when sick, and thereby potentially spreading the virus.


Christopher Rauh (University of Cambridge)

Phone: 07474 117003

Email: cr542@cam.ac.uk



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