Coronavirus has had a huge impact on our economy, felt increasingly acutely over the past week – and particularly by workers in insecure jobs and self-employment. While the Government has taken significant and hugely necessary measures to support employees, they have so far failed to deliver sufficient support to the millions of freelancers and self-employed.
There are five million self-employed people in the UK, generating about £300bn for the economy, but a lack of support means many will be forced to make a choice between following Government recommendations on social distancing and putting food on the table. Because as it stands today, these workers have no safety net to fall back on.
Self-employed workers represent a diverse demographic, but many are our least well paid and most precarious in society. A large proportion of self-employed workers are also renters who cannot rely on landlords passing on their mortgage holidays and may risk losing their home. Others will struggle to afford the basics. For those self-employed who are already struggling to make ends meet, trying to pay normal rent and bills whilst on Universal Credit may prove impossible. And crucially, many will be forced to put themselves, their families and the wider population at risk of catching Covid-19.
We all face an uncertain future regarding the economic impact of Covid-19. But what we do know is that without necessary support to prevent hardship, thousands of the self-employed face being plunged into poverty.
It has long been the case that they’ve had little support in the welfare system, and we have continuously called for a self-employed benefits package to include support such as better access to maternity pay, shared parental leave and adoption leave and pay.
A significant stride towards this for example would be rolling out Statutory Sick Pay to the self-employed, and increasing it from £94.25 a week to match the Real Living Wage. All workers need the financial support to self-isolate because they or members of their household are vulnerable or showing symptoms of Covid-19.
However, even the healthy self-employed are threatened by the wider economic impacts of the virus and the coming recession: for this we will need more than sick pay. When working from home is not possible, or business dries up as the lockdown takes hold, freelancers and self-employed workers will experience huge loss of income.
At Community, many of our members are freelancers, independent workers and self-employed. We provide them with a range of support, from debt recovery to legal advice – and we are their voice, ensuring their needs are met and their contributions recognised.
We are standing with the wider trade union movement to call for proper support for self employed workers so that they are supported through this crisis, and so that their contribution to our economy can continue beyond.
Prospect and Bectu are calling for something akin to the 80% of salary support to be extended to the self-employed, whilst the Musicians’ Union has suggested a Universal Basic Income of £400 per week. The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed has called for a temporary income protection fund for the self-employed, while the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce has suggested a £1500 cash payment with regular top ups — and the Federation of Small Businesses is lobbying the government to expand its support too.
Countries across Europe have already taken significant measures to support their self-employed workforce. As is often the case, Scandinavia is leading the way. Norway is paying the self-employed 80% of their average income over the past three years, and Denmark’s government is offering compensation worth 75% of self-employed people’s normal monthly income, up to £23,000 a month, for those who have seen their revenues fall more than 30%.
These are powerful remedies but not the only ones. Italy and Greece are giving grants out to the self-employed, Spain and Portugal are offering financial support as well as deferring social security contributions, and France has offered their self-employed €1,500 in compensation if they experience a decline in income or lockdown.
With so many options, why are the UK’s self-employed being left behind?