Crisis lessons – spotlight falls on social security net

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted many aspects of life which had previously gone unnoticed or ignored and found the holes.

The full extent to which supply chains are global is an obvious example. Our reliance on internet connections and their surprising robustness when the world turned to Netflix and Zoom is another. Of crucial importance to many people, that governments around the world latched onto quickly, was the need to bolster the poor protection provided by their social security safety nets.

In the UK, measures taken include:

  • Scrapping the four-day waiting period before statutory sick pay (SSP) began to be paid to employees suffering from Covid-19 symptoms – the self-employed do not qualify for SSP. The move sounded more generous than it was, as SSP is £95.85 a week.
  • Adding £1,000 a year to the standard allowance under Universal Credit, to bring it approximately into line with the value of SSP at £410 a month for a single person aged 25 or over (£594 for a couple).
  • Rolling out the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) to replace the earnings of those put out of work by Covid-19’s impact. The maximum payment under both schemes is £2,500 a month, with the SEISS paying out as a single three-month lump sum capped at £7,500. This compares with a standard Jobseeker’s Allowance of £73.45 a week (£116.80 for a couple).
  • Legislating to prevent evictions for three months and demanding mortgage lenders, credit card companies and others grant three-month payment holidays.

Some of the changes made by the government may endure – it will be hard to reinstate the former Universal Credit standard allowance, for example – but others are too costly or disruptive to maintain.

Whether or not you have benefited from any of the Covid-19 measures, it is worth considering how you and your family finances would have fared if instead of a pandemic, you faced the more common risks of losing your job or even dying. There would be no enhanced state safety net in those circumstances. The lesson, like some of those other Covid-19 insights, is one often ignored: you need to have your own protection in place, be it through insurance and/or a sufficient rainy-day fund.

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