MSP in call for more help for self-employed during coronavirus lockdown

Borders MSP Christine Grahame has joined a call for the chancellor of the exchequer to release more funds to support self-employed people.

Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 1:47 pm
Updated Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 1:47 pm
Christine Grahame MSP

Currently, those unable to work as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak are relying on Universal Credit claims giving an income of £94 a week.

Employers employing people under the PAYE scheme are able to claim 80% of employees wages from the UK Government under the wage retention scheme, ensuring those who can’t work due to their employers having to close can still receive a wage.

The Scottish Government wants to see similar for the self employed and has written to the UK Government to urge them to consider this. In Norway and Denmark, wage support schemes have been extended to cover the self-employed by covering their lost incomes based on earnings in previous years.

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Ms Grahame, who is the SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, said: “The UK Government has stepped up to the plate with its wage retention scheme for those in employment who are unable to work to ensure they receive at least 80% of wages. It is an exceptional measure for exceptional times.

“We cannot, however, have one standard for the employed and another for the self employed.

“Many self employed people have built up their businesses over many years of hard graft and have paid their tax and national insurance like anyone else, but are now facing unprecedented hardship.

“Many have already been in contact with my office distressed and angry.

“We must ensure these workers get the help they need, to ensure they can pick themselves back up after this pandemic and continue contributing to our economy as valued businesses. The chancellor must do the right thing and listen to these calls.

“Now that even harsher restrictions on working have been imposed, it was crucial that support for the self-employed was up and ready to run at the same time.

“The fact that the self-employed are left in limbo is unacceptable in the extreme. Of course you will feel your work is “necessary” if you have no other income to support yourself and those dependent on you.

“In the interim I’d encourage anyone self employed who’s struggling to claim everything they are entitled to currently – I realise it’s not much but it’s something. Put in a claim for Universal Credit, speak to your mortgage lender or landlord to see if payments can be suspended or reduced, speak to your utility companies to do the same.”

In a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, economy secretary Fiona Hyslop and finance secretary Kate Forbes demanded the Jobs Retention Scheme be expanded to the self-employed, of which there are 330,000 in Scotland.

The UK Government has also removed the Universal Credit minimum income floor to allow those who are self employed to more readily access the state benefit.

However, the Scottish Government letter says this "does not go far enough".

An HM Treasury spokesman said it was "actively considering further steps".