What we learned this week: Coronavirus - Lessons from other countries

19 March 2020

Coronavirus – financial solutions

The government has made a number of useful interventions to help support workers and businesses during the Coronavirus crisis, most welcome of which is the immediate break on paying business rates.  However, we need to go further to help people keep afloat financially, especially those with the least resources. We’ve put together a roundup of what other European countries are doing to help people, and how other organisations have suggested we learn from some of those strategies in the UK:

Paying proper sick pay

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is £94.25 a week, among the lowest in Europe. The UK is also one of only four countries where self-employed people are not eligible for any sick pay. By way of comparison, in the Netherlands people receive 70% of their salary for up to two years whilst ill, in France it’s 50% for 26 weeks.

The TUC points out that there are a number of ways sick pay could be increased to cover more workers including abolishing the lower earnings limit (and any earnings threshold) for receiving SSP, which would extend coverage to almost two million workers.

They also call on the government to increase the weekly level of sick pay from £94.25 to the equivalent of a week’s pay at the Real Living Wage.

Guaranteed incomes

In Denmark the government is supporting employers to keep people employed, guaranteeing 75% of wages for private sector workers who would otherwise be made redundant.

Here in the UK our partners at Resolution Foundation have suggested something similar. “The Government should introduce a new Statutory Retention Pay (SRP) scheme” they recommend “in which people who don’t have work to do stay formally employed by their firm, but with a significant amount of their pay covered by the state.” This is similar to a recommendation by our Scottish partners, Fraser of Allander, who call for action to prevent job losses.

Mortgage, rent and bills

In France, the government have put in place a break from bills, promising that for businesses, gas, electricity and heating bills and rents would be suspended throughout the crisis.

Here in the UK the government have put a complete ban on evictions for three months and offered a mortgage holiday to those with mortgages. This has been welcomed by Citizens Advice. However, they call on the government to “rapidly introduce a wider range of support to protect people’s incomes, including increasing sick pay and ensuring benefits give people enough to live on.”

Universal Income?

In America there are proposals to give citizens $1,000 each to prop up the economy.

On the Conservative Home website, the RSA’s Asheem Singh argues that now might be the time to consider a Universal Basic Income, with the possibility that it might become a reality in America as early as next week, we might be able to learn lessons from there. Many argue it would be too difficult to implement in the UK, however, Singh suggests it could be as easy as doubling SSP.

And finally, get outside (but keep your distance)

At this time of social isolation and social distancing, it’s vital people have access to as many outdoor spaces as possible. People on lower incomes in crowded cities are likely to have limited private outdoor space so we were heartened to see the National Trust announce that they will open their outdoor spaces to the public for free. Let’s hope others follow their example.

Thanks to the following for their tweets this week: @The_TUC, @BrewDog, @nationaltrust, @CitizensAdvice, @RobinAsheem and @resfoundation.