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Rishi Sunak to announce help for self-employed workers affected by COVID-19 lockdown

Rishi Sunak PA

Rishi Sunak to announce help for self-employed workers affected by COVID-19 lockdown

The help package will be announced at a joint press conference with the Johnson and Sunak on Thursday afternoon

Rishi Sunak will announce support for the self-employed on Thursday, amid reports they may have to wait until the end of May to access help.

The Chancellor has already set out plans to subsidise 80 per cent of the wages of employees who are kept on by struggling companies as swathes of the economy shut down to tackle the spread of the coronavirus.

But the Government has been urged to do more for Britain's estimated five million self-employed, with Boris Johnson on Wednesday promising that the Government would put its "arms around every single worker".

He told MPs: "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."

The help package is set to be unveiled at a joint press conference with the Johnson and Sunak on Thursday afternoon.

The Sun reports that the Chancellor will say the help is targeted at low and middle earners, with an eligibility cap expected to be set at around the median income level of £30,353.

And the paper says self-employed workers will have to wait until the end of May to receive the emergency help. 

Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Johnson said there were "particular difficulties" in supporting freelancers as they are not on Pay As You Earn (PAYE) schemes.

And he told the House he could not guarantee that the UK would beat the coronavirus "without any kind of hardship at all".

Ministers have already increased access to social security benefits for self-employed workers and delayed HMRC demands for self-assessment tax payments in a bid to soften the economic blow of the coronavirus outbreak.

But the Resolution Foundation has warned that 1.7 million self-employed workers have already been hit by the shutdown, with the think tank calling on the Government to offer to cover up to 80 per cent of the incomes of those affected.

They said a new 'Coronavirus Compensation Scheme' is needed to allow the self-employed to apply directly to the state for help. 

And it has said help through the scheme should be be based on an average of three years-worth of someone's profits as reported on their self-assessed tax returns.

Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Tuesday calling for the jobs retention scheme he announced last week to be expanded to include the self-employed.

They also asked for a change in the rules to enable more people to access statutory sick pay and Universal Credit.

Labour's John McDonnell said the self-employed deserved "the same protections" as those on company payrolls.

He said on Wednesday night: "Let them be able to claim 80 per cent of the income lost — yes, self-declared. 

"And if there are any concerns about overpayments, exactly as has been said, they can be clawed back in their next tax return. 

"This is not as complex as some have said. If people claim fraudulently while still working, they will rightly be prosecuted. It is as simple as that."

Labour and the SNP have meanwhile hit out at the Government for unveiling the latest help at a press conference rather than in the House of Commons.

Parliament rose early for its Easter recess on Wednesday night, and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said the decision to announce help outside of the chamber was "an act of bad faith on the part of the Prime Minister".

The SNP's Ian Blackford said the Government had shown "contempt for this House and for Parliament".

Read the most recent article written by Matt Honeycombe-Foster - UK set for at least three more weeks of lockdown as ministers meet to plan way ahead

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