Coronavirus support for self-employed ‘incredibly complicated’, says Chancellor

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Ben Chapman

Struggling self-employed people will have to wait for the Government to come up with a “deliverable and fair” coronavirus support package, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said.

Boris Johnson’s Government has come under sustained pressure to provide financial help for self-employed workers, who face a dramatic loss of income if forced to take time off for sickness or quarantine.

Mr Sunak told MPs it is “incredibly complicated” to design a system to support the self-employed but insisted that intensive work is going on in Whitehall.

He said ministers are “in dialogue with all the key stakeholder groups”.

“There are genuine practical and principled reasons why it is incredibly complicated to design an analogous scheme to the one that we have for employed workers, but … rest assured that we absolutely understand the situation that many self-employed people face at the moment as a result of what’s happening and are determined to find a way to support them,” he told the Commons.

“We just need to be confident that can be done in a way that is deliverable and is fair to the vast majority of the British workforce.”

Across the capital on Tuesday, the first day of the lockdown, building sites were filmed being busy as thousands of workers streamed into work following the government announcement they could continue to operate.

Unite boxx Len McCluskey accused BA of 'industrial thuggery'. Credit: PA

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know

Unite union boss Len McCluskey said: “The millions of self-employed and insecure workers across the country will dread being sent home because it means that they will have no wage.

“The Government must work with trade unions to define the tougher isolation rules because we understand the reality of the workplace.”

He added: “Without swift clarity for millions of insecure and uncertain workers about whether they can be at work or not, and without removing the agonising choice between health and hardship, then the positive measures announced by the Chancellor last week will be overshadowed and public health efforts will be severely compromised.

“Confused messages and lack of financial support are at odds with the urgency of this health emergency.

“Workers need clear direction and protection from Government now.”

Rachel Reeves, Labour chairwoman of the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, has written to Business Secretary Alok Sharma calling for ministers to extend the income protection scheme to cover the self-employed and to increase the rate of statutory sick pay.

She said: “The Chancellor’s package last week to support businesses and employees was welcome.

“But with self-employed and freelancers still not covered by support – even as many of their businesses are now subject to lockdown – there is a worrying gap in the Government’s strategy to protect these livelihoods which urgently needs to be put right.”

Labour's Wes Streeting said he would like the government to outline a way forward. Credit: PA

Raising the issue in the Commons, Labour MP Wes Streeting (Ilford North) said: “One newspaper is already reporting that the Chancellor is going to implement an income protection scheme for the self-employed and make an announcement within the next 24 hours.

“I must say, I got from the Chancellor’s earlier reply a slightly longer timescale when he was talking about the end of April.

“Coming back to this point of reassurance, can he (Mr Sunak) give us some real reassurance now to those anxious self-employed people across the country that an announcement will be made very shortly?”

Outlining the capacity of HMRC and the DWP to deliver brand new schemes Mr Sunak responded: “What I can tell (Mr Streeting) is we would hope to have something to say very shortly.

“In terms of something being implemented, that will take longer.”

He added: “In terms of saying what we are planning to do, that can be something that hopefully we can do relatively shortly.

“Implementation will take a longer timeframe for the very clear delivery challenges that this scheme would pose.”