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Thu, 9 April 2020

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Coronavirus: Rishi Sunak under pressure to support ‘forgotten’ self-employed workers

Coronavirus: Rishi Sunak under pressure to support ‘forgotten’ self-employed workers

Rishi Sunak announced new measures to support businesses and workers on Friday

2 min read

The Chancellor is under pressure to give more support to self-employed workers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

It comes after Labour accused the Government of a “major omission” by failing to protect this group of workers in new measures announced to help businesses.

On Friday, Rishi Sunak unveiled an additional package of funding to support firms and their employees during the pandemic, including plans to pay up to 80% of staff wages.

But there have been calls for the Chancellor to also cover the salaries of freelancers and the self-employed, calculated from their average earnings.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said this was a "major omission given there are five million people self-employed and notwithstanding the separate changes to the minimum income floor.”

And the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said: "It’s dawning on people that there are huge gaping holes in the Chancellor’s statement.

"We must urge him to shift once more to protect the wages of the self-employed by including them in the jobs retention scheme and to raise the level of sick pay to the real living wage."

Organisations representing musicians, actors, taxi drivers and journalists have also backed Labour’s calls for more support.

More than 2,000 musicians have signed an open letter to the Chancellor claiming “the coronavirus has led to the complete shutdown of our places of work”. 

And entertainment unions including Equity, BECTU and the Musicians’ Union have issued a joint call for the Government to guarantee the pay of the self-employed and freelancers. 

Taxi drivers have also warned there is a “threat to the existence of the trade” if more support is not given, while journalist unions have said many are “suffering real hardship”. 

While Sir Philip Pullman, President of the Society of Authors, warned those “who earn a fragile livelihood as self-employed suppliers of delight and consolation should not be forgotten”.

The Chancellor has already announced that income tax payments due in July 2020 under the Self Assessment system will be deferred to January 2021, which he claimed would benefit self-employed businesses and workers. 

A Treasury spokesman said self-employed workers would already "benefit from a relaxation of the earnings rules for self-employed claimants under universal credit and deferring income tax self-assessment payments due in July 2020".

They added: "We have always said we will go further where we can and are actively considering further steps.”

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