Government under pressure to follow example of other European countries

The Treasury is under pressure this morning to stump up more cash to help self-employed people during the coronavirus outbreak.

Trade groups representing self-employed workers have criticised Rishi Sunak’s rescue package for businesses, announced on Friday, which promised to pay at least 80% of the salaries of employers’ staff but failed to extend the same help to the self-employed.

Rishi Sunak addressing coronavirus press conference at Number 10

The chancellor (pictured) said self-employed workers, who account for 37% of the construction workforce, would be granted £94.25 a week in an equivalent to statutory sick pay, gain access to full universal credit and have their self-assessment payments deferred from July to January.

But following a backlash from trade groups, secretary of state for housing, communities and local government Robert Jenrick yesterday said the Treasury would “review” the provisions given to self-employed workers.

It follows comments by chief secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay on Saturday, who said that helping the self-employed would be “operationally difficult”.

Jenrick admitted the package was not “perfect and the chancellor is going to keep reviewing the situation and see if there are further measures we can take”.

The Federation of Small Businesses has been working with the government over the weekend to find a solution. FSB director Craig Beaumont said: “There is hope, so we are asking the self-employed to hang on in there for a little longer.”

It was reported over the weekend that the government may be considering paying grants worth 80 per cent of self-employed workers’ previous average incomes, based on tax returns from the past three years.

A similar scheme has been announced in Norway, while in Germany the government has set aside €50bn in aid for small businesses which can be applied for online.

Self-employed workers in France whose income has dropped to less than 70% year on year because of coronavirus can apply for a €1,500 payment from the government and for their rent, gas and electricity bills to be suspended.

In Spain, self-employed workers are receiving an automatic payment of €660 if they have lost more than 75% of their turnover along with suspension of social security contributions.