You might, after the prime minister’s pronouncements on Monday, be starting to think we’re done with the pandemic. It’s all but over, it seems.
But almost 400,000 people are suffering from symptoms of long Covid more than a year after their initial coronavirus infection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The true numbers are expected to be higher and the ONS has said around one million people have self-reported signs of the illness.
And for them, this is nowhere near over.
There are lots of different symptoms, with fatigue being the most common. For some, this means they’ve been unable to continue with their jobs, have cut back their hours or been forced to stop working all together.
So what happens to them now?
Most companies have a process for paying sick pay if someone is unable to work. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) pays out £96.35 per week, for up to 28 weeks, although you may be able to receive more on top of this, depending on your employer.
At this point, or if you don’t qualify for SSP, your options are applying for Universal Credit or the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), if you’re eligible.
This is clearly a lot lower than the average salary in the UK, which is around £500 per week.
Another option is buying an insurance policy, which may pay out if you have long Covid or any other type of long-term illness or injury and you are not able to work.
While long Covid is a new illness, protection policies which pay out when someone is unable to work are nothing new.
Emma Walker, chief marketing officer at LifeSearch, explains: “From an insurance point of view, life cover will pay out should you die from Covid and many millions have already been paid out.
“Critical illness cover will pay out if it causes a condition that is covered by the policy, although we wouldn’t expect long Covid itself to be covered by CI.
“As long as the symptoms are significant, income protection policies should pay out if you can’t work due to long Covid and policies could pay out until either the policy ends, you pass away or you go back to work.”
Income protection policies, which can cost around £18 per month according to the Money Advice Service, can pay out a lump sum or a regular income, depending on the policy.
If you already have one in place, they’re also likely to pay out for those with long Covid, while most critical illness insurers are yet to add the new illness to policies.
But if you have long Covid now, can you still use one of these insurance policies? It’s worth looking at the small print.
If the policy was taken out before March 2020, you’re likely to be automatically covered if you have an income protection policy, but some insurers added exclusions into these policies when the pandemic was declared.
Many will also not sell a policy to someone with a pre-existing condition, or will exclude this condition from a policy.
You may also have benefits such as remote access to doctors, mental health care and treatments from specialist medical professions, which can often be used by the policyholder and their immediate family.
So, if you have a policy and need to claim, how likely is it you’ll get a pay out?
Kathryn Knowles, chief executive officer for Cura Financial Services, says: “Insurance generally has a bad press for trying to weasel out of paying claims, and I won’t pretend that everything is perfect.
“But life insurance, critical illness cover and income protection are specifically part of a group of insurance known as protection insurances. They are separate from a lot of other insurance policies, where we hear of a lot of poor claims outcomes. Last year 98.3 per cent of claims were paid from within the protection insurance space.”
Insurance isn’t the only answer, either. If you have an income from another source, such as a partner’s salary, or you have significant savings, you could use these to supplement your income if you’re unable to work.
However, it’s worth looking carefully at all the costs involved. How could you afford childcare, for example, if the person responsible for this is too ill for these duties, on top of losing their job?
Kathryn adds: “Statutory sick pay is £96.35 per week, for a maximum of 28 weeks, this is a total of £2,697.80. I don’t know many people who could keep their homes, pay their bills and feed their children, for less than £3,000 for more than six months of the year.
“When it comes to income protection, it is quite simple: if you are working and your outgoings are more than £97 per week, you should really consider the value of income protection to you and your loved ones.”