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Sickness - Woman  sick at home on the couch

Statutory sick pay review

Two million low-paid employees could become eligible to receive statutory sick pay for the first time, as the government has launched a consultation into proposed changes.

Currently, employees must earn at least the equivalent of 14 hours on minimum wage to qualify. The government is looking at whether to extend eligibility to those earning below this threshold, and whether there could also be more help for those returning to work after sick leave. Workers need to earn at least £118 a week to receive statutory sick pay, although the threshold is reviewed every tax year.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "We need to remove the barriers that stop people with disabilities or health conditions from reaching their full potential, these steps will help us achieve that."

The Department for Work and Pensions said the proposals would cover "gig" workers on freelance or short-term contracts, as long as they met certain criteria. About 1.1 million people in the UK are considered gig economy workers, receiving little or no holiday or sick pay from their employers.

The government is also looking at making statutory sick pay more flexible, as it seeks to reduce the number of people quitting work after a period of sickness. Each year more than 100,000 people leave their job after a sickness absence lasting at least four weeks, it said.

It will explore allowing phased returns to work, in which people would continue to receive statutory sick pay, as well as offering small businesses that help employees return to work a rebate. It will also consider whether to change legal guidance to encourage employers to intervene early during a period of sickness absence. For example, employees could be given the right to request modifications to their working patterns, similar to the right to request flexible working, to help them return to work.

Read: BBC News - Two million workers could become eligible for statutory sick pay