UK announces emergency measures to help self-employed as coronavirus bites

An empty Leicester Square in central London on March 24, 2020 in London. British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced strict lockdown measures urging people to stay at home and only leave the house for basic food shopping, exercise once a day and essential travel to and from work.

Ollie Millington

The U.K. government has announced emergency measures to help self-employed people, after facing intensifying pressure to match the financial aid offered to other workers.

Finance Minister Rishi Sunak said Thursday that the government would pay self-employed people a taxable grant of 80% of their average monthly profits over the last three years. The grant will be open to people with trading profits of up to £50,000 ($60,800).

He announced details of the income support scheme after conceding many workers were still “deeply anxious about the support available for them.”

“To you, I say this, you have not been forgotten. We will not let you behind. We all stand together,” Sunak said in a press conference.

It comes after building pressure on the government to act to help self-employed people, many of whom have seen their work dry up amid a national lockdown, due to the coronavirus outbreak, that has restricted social gathering to no more than two people, confined many people to their homes and shut down all non-essential businesses.

Difficult to deliver

Speaking at a daily press conference, Sunak said the scheme had been difficult to deliver in practice, given the self-employed were a “diverse” population, “with some people earning significant profits.”

“To make sure only the genuinely self-employed benefit, it will be available to people who make the majority of their income from self-employment. And to minimize fraud, only those who are already in self-employment, who have a tax return for 2019, will be able to apply,” he said.

Sunak claimed 95% of people who are majority self-employed would benefit from the scheme.

Facing the prospect of mass lay-offs because of the economic standstill caused by the virus, the U.K. finance minister announced last week that the government would pay up to 80% of the wages (to a maximum of £2,500 a month, around $3,000) of those workers kept on by employers, in a bid to stop them making redundancies.

As of Thursday, the U.K. had reported 9,962 cases of the coronavirus, with 467 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

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