Coronavirus: Ministers urged to assist 'forgotten' self-employed

Saturday 21st March 2020 18:30 GMT

Pressure is growing on the government to provide financial assistance to freelancers, contractors and sole traders, whose businesses have been decimated by the COVID-19 crisis.

It follows warnings that the radical rescue package unveiled taken by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to cover most of the wages of workers who face losing their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, would fail to assist the self-employed.

Among those affected is writer Vikki Stone, who tweeted: "All the telly you are watching was made by the self-employed.

"All the theatre you watch was made by the self-employed.

"All the music you listen to was made by the self-employed."

She ended with a plea to "help us".

Describing herself as "one of the forgotten self-employed", Nicole Humphrey pressed her local MP about her plight.

She wrote on Twitter: "What is the government going to do about those who've worked damn hard for everything & are likely to lose it all in these dark times."

However, in a sign that help could be at hand, her MP for South West Devon Sir Gary Streeter, a senior Tory backbencher, responded that the government was aware of the situation and signalled assistance would be forthcoming.

He replied: "Treasury ministers are working up a plan for self employed. More details early next week. There will be help."

In a bid to help the economy survive the pandemic, Mr Sunak announced the government would step in to pay people's wages, with grants that will cover 80% of the salaries of retained workers - up to £2,500 a month.

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He also said he would defer the next quarter of VAT payments for businesses until the end of June, in a £30bn injection into the economy.

But there is criticism that the assistance with workers' pay did not apply to the self-employed.

Former Conservative cabinet minister David Davis has said the economy could suffer a near "fatal seizure" if they were not protected.

However, Treasury Chief Secretary Stephen Barclay said ministers were concentrating on measures which could be rolled out quickly to keep the economy going.

Experts warned assessing the incomes of self-employed people who are outside the PAYE tax system would be difficult and would take time to work out.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the chancellor had "made a number of dramatic interventions" to "help tackle this particular pandemic" when asked about possible support for self-employed workers.

He added: "I know there are other issues that have been raised and it's obviously for the Treasury to keep this matter under review."

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