In the UK we are lucky to have the National Health Service (NHS). Despite its criticisms, I am extremely grateful to be able to rely on free access to medical care. We British may therefore not think it necessary to worry about the financial implications of getting sick. Unfortunately the bubble will burst if you become chronically ill.
Initial loss of earnings
I am paid hourly, yet every day at least one person rings in sick to my workplace. To be honest, their loss of hours is often my gain. I am amazed that people can afford to ring in sick however; losing one shift means losing £30-£50! Salaried workers are at an advantage here; a few sick days will not be taken out of their wages.
Statutory Sick Pay
After four consecutive days of sickness (including days you do not normally work) you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay, as long as you earn more than £102 a week. Unfortunately, the standard rate of sick pay is £81.60 a week. This would equate to £353.60 a month. Could you pay your bills with that?
Long term illness
If you are unable to work for a longer period, for example you have been temporarily or permanently disabled, you can claim Employment and Support Allowance of up to £99 per week. You may also be entitled to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.
Additional costs of illness
Unlike in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, people living in England have to pay for prescriptions (unless they are except from fees). Currently the cost of medication is a set £7.40 per item. If you require 3 different tablets for one condition, too bad. That'll be £22.20 please.
Other costs may include getting yourself to a doctor (potentially not easy/cheap if you're too sick to drive or walk), childcare, and long-term changes to your life like installing a wheelchair ramp.
Prevention is better than a cure (especially at £7.40 a pop)
Whilst of course it is not always possible, there are a few things you can do to try and prevent sickness or long-term health problems:
- Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes and mouth
- Ensure you have a high vitamin C intake (citrus fruits are rich in this)
- Get enough exercise – this is two-fold. Firstly exercise boosts your immune system, helping you to ward off infection. Secondly, you are less likely to suffer from circulatory problems or diabetes later in life.
- Get enough sleep – six to seven hours is enough to regenerate cells and keep your immune system healthy
- Follow Health and Safety guidelines – while these are very wishy-washy, it is important to ensure your safety at work. Keep an eye out for spills, lift with your knees and don't carry too heavy an object, you know the drill.
Do you have an emergency fund in place? Even if you only miss a day's pay, on a tight budget this could mean a week's worth of groceries. Take steps to save a little for when the unexpected occurs. For longer term illness, make sure that you know what you are entitled to, both from the state and your employer.
Most of all, stay safe.