What will happen if you go off sick?
It’s a good question and one that you’ve probably never asked yourself, unless you wanted to throw a ‘sickie’. Most people I’ve met in publishing love their jobs far too much to throw sickies very often, but if you were really ill, what would happen to you?
I’m guessing that if you were working for one of the big companies with a sickness policy, you’d be looked after to some extent. Even some of the smaller companies have good policies for staff who are not well. For example at Andre Deutsch, after a qualifying period, we were entitled to 12 weeks help – 6 weeks full pay, 6 weeks on half pay.
Yet the statistics from the 2008 bookcareers.com Salary Survey showed only 63.5% of respondents got occupational sick pay of more than the legal minimum of 12 days.
If your employer does not have an occupational sick pay scheme you’ll get paid Statutory Sick Pay (SSP),(1) and this will be paid for the first 28 weeks of your sick leave, by your employer, usually on the same date as your salary. 28 weeks may seem a long time, but when you have a serious illness it is not very long at all; most maternity leave is now longer.
If at the end of 28 weeks you are still sick, you no longer fall under the protection of your employer, you are automatically transferred onto Employment and Support Allowance – ESA – the benefit they are trying to kick everyone off. (2)
Yes, you did read that correctly. Even though you have a job to return to, you are genuinely sick, and have a sick note, medical notes, from your doctor, hospital and whoever, you will have to face the indignity of an assessment and interrogation at the Job Centre, when you get transferred from your Employer’s SSP to ESA.
I know this, because it happened to me in 2006 after my car crash. My employer stopped my salary 9 days after I signed off sick, and put me on SSP. 27 weeks later I was transferred onto what was then Incapacity Benefit and had to face the indignity of the Job Centre interview.
Personally, I cannot tell you how much this added to my distress of already being sick and broke. (SSP was £72 a week), but there I was, feeling all loss of personal dignity taken from me. I had to explain that I was still not well enough to go back to work, that I had a job to return to, and that my employers were holding my job open for me, but I still had to go to three Job Centre interviews and assessments during the 9 weeks I fell under their jurisdiction.
In total I was off sick for 8 months, forced back to work because I could not afford financially to stay off sick any longer. I initially had made some provision for sick leave; had a small amount of savings and insurance, but nothing, and I repeat nothing ever prepares you for the sudden, unexpected and continual loss of a salary through sickness. (When I went back to work the insurance policy still had months to run.)
I wonder what happens now to such claimants? What will happen to you? The government has privatised all the sickness assessments to a company called ATOS. It is no longer the duty of the Job Centre to make these assessments, but a person from a privatised company behind a computer, where they ask you if you can bend down and pick up a coin, can you cook and clean yourself, and ignore all your medical history and notes. All the decisions that are made appear to be financial – none appear to be based on your health.(3)(4)
This is why everyone who is fit and well needs to take some sort of action, whilst they can, and complain to their MP.
These tests are not finding out the benefit cheats, they are kicking genuine sick people – those who are the most vulnerable and need the most help – when they are down.
We all take good health for granted. The benefits system, particularly ESA, is a safety net for those who are genuinely sick. Everyone needs to make sure that this safety net is still there in case they ever suffer the misfortune of needing it.