Furlough pay, grants from SEISS and Universal Credit boosts have all been provided by the government this year as billions were dedicated to keeping the UK above water. Rishi Sunak has repeatedly stated he would do “whatever it takes” to support the economy and most recently on this, the Chancellor extended the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme into April 2021.
The various support measures provided have been adapted a number of times as the pandemic developed but despite all the tweaking, the government has been condemned for not fixing apparent problems which are leaving millions unable to claim.
Those who are in specific working situations have been hit particularly hard, as Joanne Harris, a Technical Commercial Manager at AJD Accountancy, explained: “Although the latest extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will support many workers, there are hundreds of thousands of independent contractors and freelancers working through their own limited companies in the UK that continue to fall through the cracks of the government’s emergency COVID-19 measures.
“These important workers represent the UK’s flexible workforce but they were left out of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) and have instead been pointed towards the CJRS.”
READ MORE: SEISS: Self-employed left ‘undermined’ as extended support is needed
“As we head into 2021, we’re fast approaching a full year where contractors and freelancers have effectively been left out in the cold.”
The self-employed have been hit hard by the pandemic with recent research from the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) showing government support is not having much of an effect on the sector’s fortunes.
They found the number of solo self-employed workers in the UK has fallen by five percent compared to last year.
Additionally, around 591,000 people became self-employed between 2019 and late 2020 and given the rules around SEISS, none of them would have been able to benefit from the support.
Derek Cribb, the CEO of IPSE, commented on these findings and urged the government to take action: “Our annual review of the self-employed landscape shows that 2020 has left it pockmarked and scarred, with hundreds of thousands dropping out of self-employment and into the benefits system.
“As our report shows, the impact has been uneven, with particular groups such as young men, disabled freelancers and people in less skilled self-employed work being much harder hit than others.
“Across the industries, too, we see a very uneven picture, with construction workers, road transport drivers and agricultural trades bearing the brunt of the damage.
“However, aside from a smattering of positive stories, there has been decline right across the solo self-employed sector.
“This is especially worrying to see now because historically, it has always been the self-employed who have driven the economy in hard times, using their flexible skills to kickstart businesses and new projects.
“As with so many issues, however, 2020 has proved different. The circumstances of lockdown and the gaps in support for the self-employed have left the sector undermined and diminished.
“We fear, too, for the future: many self-employed now face not only many more months without support, but also the economic disruption and confusion of Brexit.
“We urge the government to take steps to fix the damage to the self-employed sector, both by looking again at support for excluded groups and also by providing more certainty and guidance to the sector on Brexit. We are also calling for the government to create a Freelancer Commissioner post to act as a long-term champion of the interests of the UK’s self-employed.”
As it stands, eligible self-employed workers can apply for a third SEISS grant up until January 29 2021, with fourth grants set to become available between February and April.