The self-employed bring tremendous value to our economy, providing the dynamic, innovative businesses that we will need as we recover from the pandemic.
Yet, I am concerned that the Chancellor, by refusing to make simple, creative amendments to plug the gaps in the Government’s financial support schemes, risks forcing too many of them out of business. Of the nearly five million people estimated to be in self-employment at the start of the crisis, for example, around one in five say they plan to leave the sector as the crisis ends.
The Government says that the late-April opening date for the fourth Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) grant is down to the time required to process data from new tax returns. This follows its – in my opinion long overdue – decision to plug some of the gaps in its support schemes by extending SEISS to those with a 2019-20 self-assessment tax return.
The Government further says SEISS is just one part of a wider support package available to the self-employed, including a £20 per week increase in Universal Credit (UC) and suspension of the minimum income floor so that UC awards will reflect lower earnings where self-employed claimants’ income has fallen significantly.
I am concerned, however, that on average, with the changes recently introduced by the Government, UC covers only half of someone’s income, and for single people, it covers less than a third. Yet for those people who must wait until the end of April for the fourth round of SEISS – including many excluded from the scheme for a year previously – as well as for those still falling through gaps in the Government’s schemes, this is often the only support available.
I do not believe that this is good enough: we need a stronger safety net to protect people’s incomes and must not let the self-employed go to the wall because of reasons beyond their control.
I can assure you that my Opposition colleagues and I will continue to support efforts to press the Government to implement this in Parliament, and ensure that the Government does not continue to neglect the self-employed.