Many of my constituents are deeply concerned about the lack of support for self-employed and freelance workers during the covid-19 outbreak. Unfortunately, the guillotine on the debate fell before I was able to make my contribution, so I have set out my speech in the debate on the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme below.
The gaps in the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme have already been well-documented by other speakers in this debate, and by the excellent work of the Excluded Campaign. We’ve seen: the problems with asking for a 2018-2019 tax return when many people started their business in the 2019-2020 tax year; the cliff-edge many self-employed people face because the scheme requires that trading income is at least 50% of someone’s overall income; and the difficulties for people who run limited companies and claim their salary as dividends.
For six months, many of my self-employed and freelance constituents have not received a penny of support – or where they have, they’ve taken a huge financial hit on their earnings.
And Mr Speaker, that’s set to continue. Schools have already returned without any clear plan for implementing public health measures, the universities are due back next week, and the government has yet to implement a properly functioning track and trace system. The app is still nowhere to be seen and the government’s outsourcing of the contract to Serco has been a disaster, with 46% of covid contacts not having been reached. Throughout all this we’ve seen the R-rate creep up, and on Tuesday the number of new cases reached over 3000.
The failure of Ministers to get a grip on the situation means that self-employed people and freelancers continue to be adversely affected by the public health crisis.
And that’s why it’s wrong to pit public health measures against getting the economy moving again. Without taking serious steps – such as setting up a robust track and trace system – the covid crisis will go on, prolonging the agony for my self-employed and freelancer constituents.
And what about the start-ups, the part-time self-employed, and the directors of limited companies who are still unable to claim a penny?
How long will they have to wait? How many will be forced out of business before the year is out?
My constituent – a man named Peter – hasn’t been able to claim on the scheme because he started trading in the year 2019 to 2020. He can’t claim Universal Credit because his wife earns too much – but certainly not enough for him as well. He’s had to borrow thousands of pounds from friends and family. He was at his wit’s end, so he phoned HMRC. The person he spoke to said ‘I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is’.
That’s shameful. The government has a duty to act because frankly Mr Speaker, ‘the way it is’ isn’t good enough.