Coronavirus: 'June? Seriously?' - Self-employed urge financial aid to be given sooner

Friday, March 27th, 2020 6:28am

The chancellor is being urged to speed up his £9bn coronavirus bailout for the self-employed, amid fears that waiting until June for handouts could cause serious hardship.

Self-employed workers have called on Rishi Sunak to explain how they will pay their bills for the next three months, while senior MPs and union leaders are urging him to make the aid available much earlier.

While his pledge to match the 80% of earnings offered to PAYE employees has been widely welcomed, he is facing claims that many will struggle to manage on Universal Credit payments of £94.25 until June.

There are also claims that the delay in the coronavirus bailout for the self-employed could set the jobless total soaring and kill off start-up businesses.

Under enormous political pressure to match his aid package for salaried employees, announced last Friday, the chancellor and his officials faced a race against time to announce a plan for the self-employed.

As a result, even Mr Sunak's supporters admit the scheme - drawn up in haste in less than a week - has its faults.

While many self-employed workers expressed relief at Mr Sunak's proposals, there was also anger and anxiety that compensation of 80% of profits, worth up to £2,500 a month, could be three months away.

Keri Hudson, 30, a social media consultant from Bristol, welcomed the financial aid package but said: "June? Seriously? It's ridiculous. It's going to be very difficult for a lot of people."

Louise Barina, a production manager from London, said: "After having spoken to our landlord, he has outright said no, that we can't get a delay on our rent."

And casting director Sally McCleery, from Brighton, said: "We're going to have to really watch the pennies until June."

Labour's outgoing shadow chancellor John McDonnell warned: "My worry is that if people cannot get access to the scheme until June it will simply be too late for millions.

"People need support in the coming days and fortnight. Asking people to rely on Universal Credit when more than 130,000 people are queuing online will be worrying to many people.

"So there is a real risk that without support until June the self-employed will feel they have to keep working, putting their own and others' health at risk."

Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who chairs the Business Select Committee of MPs, said the chancellor's announcement would be welcomed by many of the nation's millions of self-employed workers.

But she added: "The wait until June for this grant will, however, be an agonising one for many and I would urge the government to do all they can do bring forward this vital support."

Former Labour minister Stephen Timms, who chairs the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said: "This package for the self-employed is hugely welcome - but may not kick in until June.

"Few will have enough in the bank to tide them over until then, so they'll have to rely on Universal Credit in the meantime."

From the unions, the TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady welcomed the package, but backed calls for it to be implemented much earlier.

She said: "With so many of the self-employed facing a collapse in their earnings, the chancellor is right to act.

"This is a welcome step forward for self-employed and freelance workers across the economy, from construction to the creative industries.

"It's vital that support reaches workers as soon as possible. Many are already dealing with severe hardship."

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community union, said: "Waiting until June will be too long for many of the self-employed who already are struggling to make ends meet.

"As a matter of priority, we urge the government to ensure the systems to deliver the self-employed income support scheme are ready and in place as soon as possible to ensure cash gets into the pockets of freelancers and the self-employed urgently."

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But there was strong support for the chancellor from business leaders.

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn of the CBI said: "Given the complexity of the task, it's understandable this will take time to deliver."

And Adam Marshall of the British Chambers of Commerce said: "The chancellor's announcement offers a lifeline to the vast majority of the UK's five million self-employed people who have seen their livelihoods vanish overnight.

"We welcome the scale of this scheme and recognise the complexities involved in its design. It is now critical that the government delivers this practical support to people on the ground as soon as possible."

Sky News

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