Coronavirus pandemic

Britain: Help for millions who are self-employed

A pedestrian wearing a mask walks at Oxford Circus in central London on March 24, 2020, after Britain ordered a lockdown to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
A pedestrian wearing a mask walks at Oxford Circus in central London on March 24, 2020, after Britain ordered a lockdown to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • Millions of people in Britain who work for themselves will be promised a rescue package as the coronavirus pandemic threatens their incomes.

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak was yesterday set to announce assistance to the self-employed in what would be his fourth set of emergency measures to cope with the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government battles growing criticism of its slow response to the spread of the virus.

The measures will supplement provisions for tax breaks, loans and hardship grants that are already available to the self-employed.

"It has been tricky to work out a package that will address the needs of as many people as possible," Mr Johnson said on Wednesday.

"But that has been done, it has been done at incredible speed."

This is the latest set of policies to deal with Britain's virus outbreak in just over two weeks, and comes in response to political pressure to give freelancers and the self-employed some relief to match that of workers, who were guaranteed 80 per cent of their wages if they could not work or lost their jobs due to the economic downturn. There are roughly five million self-employed Britons.

The Resolution Foundation said the government should widen wage subsidies to self-employed workers and those who have already lost their jobs, rather than limiting the programme to people put on temporary leave by their employers.

Doing so would cost £3.6 billion (S$6.2 billion) for three months if one million people claimed it.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said almost a million self-employed workers were in sectors now experiencing huge falls in demand, and those working for themselves were already much more likely to be living in poverty than employees.

IFS deputy director Helen Miller said: "It is right that the government look at what more can be done for this group."

 
 
 
 

In Germany, there is a €50 billion (S$79 billion) liquidity pot for its three million self-employed workers and small businesses, while France has a "solidarity fund", with the government pledging to pay out €1,500 to self-employed workers who meet certain criteria.

Mr Sunak has warned it will take time for any help to actually reach the self-employed.

On March 11, he unveiled £12 billion of measures to mitigate the effects of the outbreak on the economy. He followed up with a £350 billion stimulus package comprising government-backed loans, grants and tax cuts for struggling firms.

Last Friday, he said the government would pay a portion of citizens' wages for the first time, as he announced a package that also included £7 billion of extra welfare spending.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2020, with the headline 'Britain: Help for millions who are self-employed'. Print Edition | Subscribe