Self-employed claim they are ‘falling through the cracks’ of Government support

Self-employed people have claimed they are “falling through the cracks” after new measures were announced on Friday to bolster the Jobs Support Scheme.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that workers in pubs, restaurants and other businesses which are forced to close under new coronavirus restrictions will have two-thirds of their wages paid by the Government, up to a maximum of £2,100 a month.

Ministers will also increase cash grants to businesses in England which have been legally required to close, while a £1.57 billion fund for the creative industries was launched.

With no change to the support for self-employed people, however, freelancers have expressed that their finances throughout the pandemic have been a “struggle”.

Campaigners believe as many as three million freelance and self-employed workers have been unable to claim on the Government’s support schemes due to various restrictions.

Tim Pravda from West Sussex is a Paye freelancer working in live events, who has not been able to work since February, and does not have an event booked until April next year.

“We’ve been falling through the cracks of everything since March”, Mr Pravda told the PA news agency, explaining that the events he was supposed to work on, including London’s Winter Wonderland, have been cancelled.

Mr Pravda, 43, claims he has sent over 1,000 emails to the Government about this issue, with many more tweets, but has received no reply.

“You have to keep the pressure up on them. I’ve been up to Parliament and it’s like talking to a brick wall.

“It’s literally just falling on deaf ears, we don’t know what to do.”

Mr Pravda, who has been on Universal Credit since the pandemic hit, and moved in with family, said he is “lucky”, but that the situation is a “struggle”.

“Luckily I’ve managed to fall back on that, everything’s a complete struggle,” he told PA.

“They’ve got everything there but they’re not willing to go ahead. All we need is a support package.”

Ros, a musician and events organiser from Edinburgh who did not want to give her surname, told PA that self-employed people are “stressed” by the lack of support.

“Pretty much all my work vanished just before the first lockdown.

“I had the self employed support grant, although it was a fairly small proportion of what I would have earned, it has helped pay the bills,” Ros, aged 60, told PA.

“When it reduces down to 20% it certainly won’t be enough top live on, and I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

“There should be higher payments that go on for longer, and payments to all the folk who fell through the cracks in the system at the beginning.

“They should announce their plans for supporting people as soon as possible… plenty of folk are unbelievably stressed about what will happen to them.”

Ahead of Friday’s announcement, some 400 freelance musicians performed in Parliament Square to demand more support for self-employed performers amid the pandemic.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti said: “Obviously there has been a massive, large lump sum given from the Government, but freelancers in particular have their own fight to fight and they have their own plight.”

Mr Sunak told reporters that his “priority has always been to protect jobs”, and that the Jobs Support Scheme is different to the previous furlough scheme.

“This is a very different scheme to what we’ve had before,” he said.

“This is not a universal approach, this is an expansion of the Jobs Support Scheme specifically for those people who are in businesses that will be formally or legally asked to close, so in that sense it’s very different.”

Campaign group ExcludedUK said in a statement: “While we acknowledge that it is important to support regions and specific industries that are being severely affected by ongoing restrictions, it continues to be the case that a huge number of individuals and small businesses, including a vast number of self-employed, have been unjustly excluded from any meaningful support since March.

“This is an intolerable situation and these people continue to find themselves ignored and face significant financial hardship and debt through no fault of their own, while the associated mental health crisis continues to deepen with every day that passes.

“The financial hardship endured for close to seven months by 3 million people is further compounded amidst the ongoing uncertainty that still lies ahead.”