The Budget must finally include the 3 million people left out from Covid financial support
Whichever of the many cracks in support each of these 3 million people has fallen through, they have 262 MPs on their side.
Yellow, blue, red, green. Orange, black, purple. Such are the colours of the largest all-party parliamentary group in history, populated by 262 MPs of every political party in Parliament. There are few things that could unite such a vast and disparate group.
And one of those things is the matter of 3million people left out of Covid financial support for almost a year. Perhaps they’ve been wrongly denied furlough by their employer, with no opportunity for redress, or perhaps they were newly employed and thereby missed the deadline for furlough eligibility.
They may have become self-employed after April 5th 2019, meaning they don’t have the three years of tax returns required to prove their income, making them ineligible for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
Perhaps they’re just above the £50,000 cut-off point for claiming support from SEISS. The APPG for Gaps in Support heard of one such case; a photographer earning just over £50,000 who couldn’t work during the pandemic because he had to homeschool his two adopted children. To help his family survive, he was forced to use food banks and borrow clothes from friends.
The gaps continue. Two million Ltd company directors – self-starters who, between them, employ 7.5million people – have been frozen out of government support schemes. Pregnant mothers and new parents have missed out through being pregnant, being on maternity or adoption leave at the wrong time, or simply through having early-years children.
We understand the challenges faced by the Treasury, and have worked hard to focus on workable, fraud-resistant solutions
PAYE freelancers, who were unfortunate enough to earn more than 50% of their income from being on payroll. A year ago, who would have thought that such a thing would be the difference between a year of support, or a year left out in the cold?
Whichever of the many cracks in support each of these 3 million people has fallen through, they have 262 MPs on their side. Every MP in this APPG has heard the same stories from their constituents. A row of terraces where, from neighbour to neighbour, one family has been held aloft by government support, another left without. A factory where half of employees received furlough, and the other half were denied it.
As the first chair of the APPG, I’ve been taken aback by the goodwill between MPs from across the political divide. Their cooperation has enabled us to work together on such proposals as the Targeted Income Grant Scheme, an easy to administer, fraud-resistant scheme of grants ranging from £3,500 to £7,500, and the Directors Income Support Scheme, which covers small Ltd company directors currently excluded from support.
We understand the challenges faced by the Treasury, and have worked hard to focus on workable, fraud-resistant solutions. There are full details in our excellent – and heavyweight – pre-Budget report, put together with the help of the leading experts in this field.
MPs who spend debates facing off against each other from different sides of the House have come together to give the Chancellor practical solutions to the problems he has so far failed to address.
There’s a long history of setting aside political differences at times of crisis – we had a national unity government after the death of William Pitt the Younger in 1806 (even I wasn’t around for that one); and coalitions during the first and second world wars.
During this pandemic, many of us have made uncommon alliances for a common cause. The breadth of these, in the case of the APPG for Gaps in Support, illustrates the vital importance of redressing this miscarriage of justice, on behalf of those 3million people.
If Mr Sunak listens to us and solves these issues, his name will rightly go down in history. If he fails, then his picture will be painted very differently by historians.
Jamie Stone is the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross and chair of the APPG for gaps in support.