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What happens if I get COVID and can’t work?

Updated: Mar 7

Living with COVID in our society might be something we need to accept, but it’s also important to consider what happens if you can’t work due to COVID. What happens to your income, and how do you replace it?

Turns out, the older you get, the more chance you have of falling ill – just like a hangover, it gets worse as you get older (or so they say, but I’m usually out for like a week after drinking, and I’m 25).


But that doesn’t mean those Gen Z and Millennials don’t ever fall ill, especially since COVID appears to affect everyone in different ways. And in the worst cases, illness can mean the odd day/week or even month off work. And on average, a UK employee takes 7 days off work in a year (Helix Law).


When the pandemic started all the way back in 2020 (where has the time gone?!), it was scary for everyone. And today, although COVID is still at large, those young and healthy are more confident that it’ll be less fatal for them.


But what happens if you can’t work due to COVID and you need to take time off work? What happens to your income, and how do you keep up with your expenses?


How does your employer or the government help you?

Some employers in the UK offer paid sick leave that’s usually for two weeks per year, or even paid sick leave specifically for COVID (check with your HR team!). But that might not be long enough to get to full recovery.


With post-COVID symptoms like anxiety, brain fog and more, some of us need more time to recover, and if paid sick leave isn’t something our employer offers for more than two weeks (or at all!), you start to lose your income.


The government also offers Statutory Sick Pay for employees in the UK, which pays out £96.35 per week (Feb 2022), and your employer is legally required to pay you this for up to 28 weeks if you’re too ill to work (gov.uk). But who can live off that?! I mean, that can barely cover the rent!


There are other ways your employer could support you too. And yes, you could dip into your savings (if you’ve saved enough), but research by Raisin UK says Squigglers have between only £3,500 to £6,000 in savings – that’s not going to last too long, and also wouldn’t you rather spend that money on something more rewarding?



If you’re a freelancer, here’s how you could get financial support

Now if you’re a freelancer or work in the gig economy, things work a little differently.

Obviously, you don’t get paid sick leave – you’re your own boss, which is great, but it also means that if you don’t work, you’re not getting the income into your account.

Plus, as someone who’s self-employed, you’re not covered by Statutory Sick Pay (or the furlough scheme that was so popular early pandemic!). There’s another scheme called Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) that could help, but only if you’ve made enough National Insurance contributions (always strings attached, eh?).


So, what can I do to financially protect myself if I get COVID?

Well, freelancer, gig economy or a corporate 9-5, you’ve got to look out for yourself if you happen to get COVID and can’t work.


Some of the basic things you could do is start building an emergency fund, and work towards your savings goal. A good rule of thumb is to save three months’ worth of rent and expenses in your fund.


Another strong option is getting income protection insurance. It’s a financial product that basically replaces 50% to 70% of your income if you can’t work due to illness or accident, for as long as you need it.


It’s a good idea to get it regardless of any other employee benefits or savings you may have as it can just complement the other ways you’re financially protected (and you could use those savings for a holiday when we’re allowed to travel properly again). And if you’re a freelancer, or self-employed, income protection insurance could help you right away. Find out more about income protection insurance here.


Just remember, your physical and mental health should always come first. So it’s important to make sure your money is protected so you can prioritise your health if the dreaded C-word ever does hit.