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  • Writer's pictureEmma Hendrie

Our Vision For a More Flexible Approach to Statutory Sick Pay and Long Term Conditions

I was delighted to see the YSI pass the following motion at our Annual Conference a few weeks ago. Written by Ian Gallagher, YSI West Convener, I had the pleasure of proposing the motion.

Conference notes that Cancer is the most common cause of death in Scotland and that 2 in every 5 people will develop cancer at some point in their lives. Conference notes that while cancer survival rates are improving across Scotland a person’s cancer journey affects all aspects of their life including their employment.

Conference also notes that many long term conditions affect all aspects of a person’s life as well. Conference believes every individual’s cancer journey or experience with a long term condition is unique and that the welfare state should deliver a flexible approach to statutory sick pay which addresses the needs and circumstances of the individual claimant. Conference recognises the flexibility built into the Finnish Statutory Sick Pay model which enables cancer patients and those with long term illness to reduce their working hours and claim statutory sick pay while remaining in work for as long as they are able, including while a patient is receiving treatment.

Conference calls on the Scottish Government to investigate introducing the Finnish model of Statutory Sick Pay for cancer and other long-term conditions in an independent Scotland.

As a young carer for someone diagnosed with a long term health condition, I know so well the way a diagnosis affects the individual and their families. Often patients feel written off as not being able to continue or return to work. This doesn’t have to be the case in an independent Scotland, but it often is under the current employment and social security framework we are locked into by virtue of our continued membership of the Union.

The UK Government’s Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) system is woefully inadequate - I’d go so far to say it is not fit for purpose. The rate of pay is at £95.85 per week - you will still be taxed on this and subject to National Insurance contributions. This can often be a drastic drop in earnings for employees meaning they struggle to meet their outgoings. On top of this, you cannot get SSP if you are able to work at all . This means if you fall ill, you need to make the decision to work your normal hours and deal with your health condition or to take time off, take a pay cut to go to SSP rate and not work at all. There is no middle ground - no flexibility.

Being diagnosed with a long term condition affects your wellbeing, self-esteem, social circles and mental health. Do you know what else affects those things? Losing your job; worrying about if there will be a job to go back to; being unsure if you will be able to re-enter the labour market if you recover. Too often a diagnosis of cancer or another long-term health condition spells the end of work for a patient - compounding the issues they face. This affects everyone in their world too - we will all benefit from the introduction of this policy.

In Finland, the system works by allowing access to a flexible form of sick pay through a partial sickness benefit. This works by allowing people to reduce their working hours by 40 to 60% for up to 120 days. And after the full 120 days you can get an extra 50 days of sick pay after you’ve been back at work for roughly 6 weeks. Those who opt for flexible leave in Finland tend to return to full-time work more often than those who were off work completely.

The key thing here is that any Scottish system of sick pay must have a degree of flexibility in order to support those with cancer and long term health conditions in their recovery, career prospects as well as social needs.

The flexibility in Finland capped at 120 day is helpful especially for conditions which are cyclical such as many cancer treatments or those which mean patients are prone to cycles of relapses and recovery. However, an independent Scotland could go even further offering longer periods which will help with a wider range of conditions to ensure disabled and sick workers living in Scotland know they are valued members of the workforce. The key thing here is that any Scottish system of sick pay must have a degree of flexibility in order to support those with cancer and long term health conditions in their recovery, career prospects as well as social needs. When you feel supported and secure in your workplace, your health recovery will be much easier.

We have already followed Finland’s lead on their baby box - let’s make flexible sick leave the next policy we adopt and adapt from our Scandi neighbours. By backing this motion, the YSI have sent a strong message of support to those diagnosed with long-term health conditions and their families.

Emma Hendrie


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