Boris Johnson has announced that statutory sick pay will be available from the first day of illness under emergency legislation to tackle the coronavirus.
Under current rules workers only receive the pay, £94 a week, from the fourth day off work.
Speaking during PMQs on Wednesday, the prime minister said people who self-isolate were “helping to protect all of us by slowing the spread of the virus”.
“If they stay at home and if we ask people to self-isolate, they may lose out financially,” he told the Commons.
Johnson added: “Nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing.”
But Jeremy Corbyn, the outgoing Labour leader, warned there were two million workers, “many of them women in the care sector”. who were not entitled to statutory sick pay.
“The prime minister’s statement just now is not clear whether it covers them or not, and those on social security could face sanctions if they miss appointments and therefore they and their families will face terrible hardship,” he said.
Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, said the announcement was an “important step forward” but was “not enough”.
“Two million workers still don’t earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay. They can’t afford not to work. And statutory sick pay still isn’t enough to live on,” she said.
“Government must go further to ensure that no one is penalised for doing the right thing.”
It comes the day after the government launched its “battle plan” to combat the outbreak with a warning that up to a fifth of the UK workforce could be off sick when the virus hits its peak.
This morning England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, warned the UK is “likely” to see an epidemic.
He said the NHS would cope with a major spread of cases but could come under “very high pressure” in a large epidemic.
Whitty told BBC Breakfast there could be a need to do “extreme things” to protect the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions.
Ministers today launched a new campaign to encourage people to take simple steps to protect themselves.
The publicity campaign seeks to drive home the message that regular hand-washing is the single most important action individuals can take in the fight against Covid-19.
The new adverts say hand-washing should be for 20 seconds, using soap and water or hand sanitiser.
Are you unemployed or one of the two million workers who don’t earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay? Have coronavirus measures left you unable to work from home or at all or stockpile? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org