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Johnson: ‘We will do what we can to protect self-employed’

Boris Johnson: hardship

Boris Johnson today told MPs that the government would do “whatever we can to support the self-employed” during the coronavirus crisis, but said he could not promise that everyone will be protected.

Scottish Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael asked the Prime Minister to ensure the self-employed were no worse off than the employed who have been offered up to 80% of their wages.

Mr Johnson, speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions, said: “I cannot promise this House that we will get through this crisis without any sort of hardship at all.

“We will do whatever we can to support the self-employed just as we are putting our arms around every single employed person in this country.”

Reacting afterwards, Mr Carmichael said: “The Prime Minister had the chance to make a very simple commitment to self-employed people and to give them the reassurance that they want, but he dodged it.

Alistair Carmichael: worrying

“That is worrying. In recent days I have heard from many constituents who are increasingly concerned about the lack of support from the Government, and I will continue to put these points across until they are addressed adequately. I asked for a commitment on behalf of my constituents and the Prime Minister did not give it.”

However, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, will make an announcement on Thursday on what measures the UK government will take to help self-employed people amid speculation that it will involve some form of tax deferment.

Figures released by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland show that there are more than 320,000 self-employed people in Scotland. Glasgow has more people who work for themselves than any other Scottish local authority. However, rural Scotland has a disproportionately high number of people who are self-employed compared to population.

Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scotland policy chairman, said: “The self-employed make a vital contribution to their local communities and economies. And this current crisis has hit everyone from the city centre taxi driver to the rural tour guide.  

Andrew McRae

Andrew McRae: ‘vital contribution’

“That’s why we’ve been spearheading calls for the Chancellor to put in place new help for people like the local piano teacher, the independent journalist and the driving instructor. By any measure, the self-employed deserve similar help to the rest of the working population. 

“To give credit to the UK Government Ministers, they’ve stated that they’re considering the best way to help those that have set up on their own. What’s important – like so much of this governmental intervention – is that it reaches the intended recipients quickly.”

The SNP has pressed the UK government to introduce a financial package of support for self-employed and unemployed people “without further delay”.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford wrote to the Chancellor on Saturday calling for an urgent cross-party meeting but said he has not had a reply. He said the lockdown meant it was “even more urgent” that a financial package is introduced.

“The coronavirus lockdown makes it even more urgent that the UK government delivers a comprehensive financial package of support for the millions of freelancers, self-employed and unemployed people who are struggling to get by in this unprecedented emergency.

Ian Blackford Commons

Ian Blackford: use the tax system

“The SNP is calling for the Chancellor to use the tax and welfare system to introduce a guaranteed income for everyone, raise Statutory Sick Pay to the EU average, and strengthen welfare protections by increasing Child Benefit and making Universal Credit more flexible.

“While there are complexities in the Job Retention Scheme, there are many steps that could be taken this week without further delay – including increasing sick pay, improving social security support, and providing everyone with a guaranteed income. There is no good reason these moves should be put on hold when people are already in need.

“We must ensure the cross-party approach to this crisis continues. I would again urge political parties to get round the table to ensure all measures are considered and a meaningful financial package can be introduced as soon as possible.”

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