A coronavirus bail-out for the self-employed is being unveiled by the chancellor after pressure from MPs, but handouts could go to only one in three of the five million who work for themselves.
Rishi Sunak will announce an emergency package at Boris Johnson’s daily Downing Street news conference, promising help for groups such as builders, taxi drivers, hairdressers and childminders.
But while he will promise to match the 80% of earnings he promised staff employees last Friday, the monthly cap is likely to be lower than the £2,500 in that coronavirus scheme because many self-employed pay less tax.
And it is likely only about 1.7 million, a third of the UK’s self-employed, will qualify, with those who have separate earnings as company employees and those on Universal Credit – already promised help – excluded.
MPs have been warned that the aid package for the self-employed is highly complicated. And Treasury officials worked through the night in a race against time to complete preparations for its Downing Street launch.
In the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Sunak – poised to unveil his second massive state bailout for workers in less than a week – told MPs: “We will not be able to protect every single job or save every single business.”
And at Prime Minister’s Questions, under pressure from MPs of all parties, Mr Johnson admitted: “I cannot, in all candour, promise that we will be able to get through this crisis without any kind of hardship at all.”
Later, at his latest Downing Street news conference, the prime minister revealed: “You’ll be hearing more from Rishi Sunak, the chancellor tomorrow, about what we’re doing to help the self-employed.”
He added: “I think people do understand the complexity of their working arrangements has made it harder to come up with the right tailored programme and that is coming forward tomorrow.”
At PMQs, Mr Johnson promised MPs: “We will do whatever we can to support the self-employed, just as we are putting our arms around every single employed person in this country.”
Pressed by the SNP leader Ian Blackford, Mr Johnson promised “parity of support” for the self-employed, matching the handouts announced by the Chancellor last week for those in salaried employment.
“There are particular difficulties with those who are not on PAYE schemes,” Mr Johnson said. “We are bringing forward a package to ensure that everybody gets the support that they need.”
Attacking the delay, Jeremy Corbyn challenged the PM: “The self-employed are having to choose whether they go to work or stay at home and face losing their entire livelihood, relying instead on an overstretched welfare system, which could pay as little as £94 per week.
“One self-employed person said that they need to pay for baby food, rent, council tax and insurance for the car they use for work, being ‘faced with a decision to feed your family and pay your bills, or stay at home and not get paid’.
“Why has it taken the prime minister so long to guarantee income for all self-employed workers? There are millions of them-our economy has changed.”
Later, in his final Commons speech as Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell told MPs: “If people claim fraudulently while still working, they will rightly be prosecuted.
“But right now millions of cabbies, childminders, plumbers, electricians, painters and decorators and actors have all lost work or closed down their businesses.
“As have builders, designated as the self-employed under the construction industry scheme and they have no income. They need a solution, now.”
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