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Excluding millions from support is a huge injustice and a stain on this government’s financial response to Covid

Excluding millions from support is a huge injustice and a stain on this government’s financial response to Covid

If Rishi Sunak could see some of the emails I receive from constituents, I don’t think he would have had the gall to say he was providing a bridge for people and businesses, writes Caroline Lucas MP. | PA Images

3 min read

The Chancellor’s statement on Monday was another harsh blow to millions of the excluded who had had a glimmer of hope.

There was a time when a government minister would come to the House to make a statement when he or she had something to say.  

On Monday, the Chancellor took up parliamentary time saying absolutely nothing new in response to a growing chorus of calls for him to support millions of self-employed people, freelancers and small business owners unjustly excluded from any government assistance during the Covid crisis. 

If Rishi Sunak could see some of the emails I receive from constituents, I don’t think he would have had the gall to say he was providing a bridge for people and businesses until the economy reopens, because for far too many, there was never a bridge – there isn’t even a lifejacket. 

Freelancers, the recently self-employed, people who combine a PAYE job with self-employment, directors of small limited companies that take income in dividends have all been utterly abandoned by this Government.  My mailbox is full of heart-breaking stories of despair – and I know I am not the only one. The Gaps in Support APPG has more than 260 MPs, who are members of the group because they can see the impact on their constituents.

I’ve heard from plumbers, small building firms, designers, photographers, technicians and more, all left destitute, burning through their savings (if they have any) to try and keep afloat. 

One of them wrote: “I am begging you to help us. We will lose everything, everything we have worked for, everything we have saved.  It is our entire life.” 

The fact that so many are benefitting does not absolve the government of responsibility for the millions of others who are getting nothing

I wrote to the Chancellor at the end of last week, urging him to consider a proposal to specifically help the directors of small limited companies, who fall between the government’s definition of employed and self-employed, so they don’t benefit from either the Job Retention Scheme (JTS) or the Self-Employment Support Scheme (SEISS).

These are entrepreneurial self-starters who have been maligned and called tax avoiders for setting up company structures that were often required in order to secure contracts from their clients. They simply want parity with fellow tax-payers. 

The Directors Income Support Scheme (DISS) has been developed to give government a way of supporting them. It was drawn up by a coalition of ForgottenLtd, a former policy adviser to the Office of Tax Simplification, the ACCA and the FSB.  And it’s been sitting on the Chancellor’s desk since November.  

I had hoped that the Chancellor would adopt this scheme. It would be no more onerous to implement than the SEISS nor more open to fraud, and it would be a lifeline to the directors of as many as 2 million small or micro-companies within its scope – and the 7.6 million reliant on them for employment.

I raised the DISS scheme with the Chancellor during his statement and heard nothing back about why it is not being adopted. Just the usual self-congratulatory pat on the back about how many people are being supported by job support schemes. The fact that so many are benefitting does not absolve the government of responsibility for the millions of others who are getting nothing. 

Their exclusion from support is a huge injustice and a stain on this government’s financial response to Covid.  The Chancellor’s statement on Monday was a harsh blow to millions who had had a glimmer of hope.  It was dashed, but the struggle goes on. 

 

Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion.

Read the most recent article written by Caroline Lucas MP - Cutting air passenger duty shows the government is going backwards on climate action

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