A financial package aimed at helping self-employed workers get through the coronavirus crisis will be announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak with the Government under growing pressure to throw the sector a lifeline.
The move comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament he wanted to achieve “parity of support” so the self-employed could have similar levels of protection to waged workers.
Last week, the Government set out plans for 80% wage subsidies or up to £2,500 per month for staff kept on by employers, as part of "unprecedented" measures to prevent workers being laid off due to the virus crisis.
The Chancellor later said drawing up plans to help self-employed people had proved to be "incredibly complicated".
Speaking on Wednesday, the Prime Minister promised the Government would do "whatever we can to support the self-employed, just as we are putting our arms around every single employed person in this country".
As the Commons shut down early for Easter due to the escalating epidemic, Mr Johnson told MPs: “There are particular difficulties with those who are not on PAYE schemes as… I think the whole House understands.
“We are bringing forward a package to ensure that everybody gets the support that they need.”
But cautioned: “I cannot, in all candour, promise the House that we will be able to get through this crisis without any kind of hardship at all.
Health minister Edward Argar told ITV News the self-employed "have done the right thing" in setting up a business and are "hugely important" - but said "it isn't as easy" to support them.
"I know that many of them have been anxious in recent days, we've brought forward a big package of support for businesses and individuals," he said.
"The prime minister has made clear it isn't as easy with this group but the chancellor is clear in his view that these people are hugely important and he wants to support them."
Ahead of the Chancellor’s announcement, The Daily Telegraph reported one in three self-employed workers were set to ask the Government to support their wages.
The move comes after Mr Sunak set out plans for 80% wage subsidies for PAYE employees last week.
It should affect 1.7 million of the five million self-employed, according to the Daily Telegraph.
The total number of people in the UK to die with Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has reached 465.
The Chancellor will outline his measures on Thursday, on the day the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 is likely to pass 10,000.
The Government is also under pressure to provide more protective equipment for doctors and nurses, with the number of positive UK tests rising to 9,529 at 9am on Wednesday, up from 8,077 at the same point on Tuesday.
The British Medical Association (BMA) warned doctors and patients would die without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) across the NHS.
It said said there was “growing evidence that thousands of GPs and hospital staff are still not being provided with the kit they need to properly protect themselves and their patients”, despite Government assurances.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said millions of items of PPE had been sent out in recent days, with a hotline set up so staff could report shortages.
BMA council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “A construction worker wouldn’t be allowed to work without a hard hat and proper boots.
“Even a bee-keeper wouldn’t inspect a hive without proper protective clothing.
“And yet this Government expects NHS staff to put themselves at risk of serious illness, or even death, by treating highly infectious Covid-19 patients without wearing proper protection.
"This is totally unacceptable.”
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told ITV’s Peston: “We need to get more PPE out to people working on the frontline, that’s in hospitals, it’s in social care, it’s in pharmacies and GPs’ surgeries.
“Every social care provider in the country will get deliveries this week.
"We now have a PPE hotline so that those people on the front line can ring up, get the order that they desperately need.”
The economic impact of the outbreak has also brought a large spike in the number of people applying for Universal Credit.
Ministers are being urged to step-up testing for coronavirus, especially among health workers.
Professor Chris Whitty said the accuracy of the tests needed to be properly tested before they were made available, and he stressed that frontline NHS workers would need them first so they could get back to work if they have already had the virus.
A national salute is set to take place to honour the hardworking NHS staff who are trying to battle coronavirus.
In a gesture of thanks to the frontline healthcare heroes, everyone across the nation has been invited to join a a mass round of applause from their doorsteps, windows and balconies on Thursday at 8pm.
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