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Government tells self-employed ‘help is coming’ amid pressure to unveil coronavirus aid package

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay told the self-employed ‘help is coming’ (Parliament TV)

3 min read

The Government has sought to reassure the self-employed that “help is coming” amid growing pressure to come up with a package to help them through the coronavirus outbreak.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay made a direct plea in the Commons, telling workers: “We have not forgotten you."

It comes after criticism that measures taken to deal with the impact of Covid-19 so far have failed to take them into account.

The Cabinet minister was responding to an urgent question from acting-Lib Dem leader Ed Davey, who said the five million people in self-employment are facing “real stress” and urged ministers to “move as fast as possible to meet their concerns because they are, literally in many cases, running out of money”.

Calling on ministers “not to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good”, the Lib Dem chief said an “urgent package of help is needed now”.

Mr Barclay replied: "We know many self-employed people are in distress but we are working urgently to address this problem, and I say to the self-employed: we have not forgotten you, help is coming.

"But the policy and delivery is complex and we cannot and should not rush to announce a scheme that begs more questions than it answers.”

So far the Government has unveiled plans to offer billions of pounds-worth of loans to firms to keep them afloat, as well as paying up to 80% of the the wages of millions of workers during the crisis.

However the scheme only applies to those who are contracted members of staff, not freelancers or the self-employed, who instead have to rely on Universal Credit payments if their wages have dried up.

In response to calls from across the chamber to create an equivalent rescue package, Mr Barclay added: “But it’s also important to remember that Covid-19 is an urgent challenge to our entire economy, affecting workers of all types, and it’s essential that we can respond swiftly so that people can keep their jobs and businesses can carry on. 

“This is the basis of our coherent, co-ordinated and comprehensive plan.”

Earlier the Chancellor Rishi Sunak had told MPs: “We’re looking at pace at what support can be provided.

“The fact is that five million universe that we’re dealing with contains such a wide variety of different people where we don’t have the ability to target support.

“That’s the challenge that we have in designing something that gets to the people that we want it to help whilst at the same time being affordable, not having to benefit absolutely everybody.

“That is proving to be problematic, but we are hard at work on it.”

In response, Labour’s shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said nobody is “looking for a row over this”.

But he added: “There is a sense of urgency about this now. 

“There isn’t any member of this House who has not been contacted by a constituent who is in a quite distressful state at the moment.”

The Labour frontbencher said: "The ones that are contacting me at the moment are the plumbers, the hairdressers, yes, the freelance artists as well and others, they are in desperate straits.

"There isn't a member of the House, I don't think, who hasn't received representations. 

“We're just looking for something that we can go back with them today to give them some assurance.

"We know how complicated it is, but we've got to find a solution quickly, I would urge the Government to at least set a deadline now, that we can go back to our members and say by the end of this week there will be a proposal brought forward."

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