Senior councillors in Lewisham and Greenwich have asked the government for more protection for the self-employed during the coronavirus outbreak.
Joe Dromey, Lewisham’s member for jobs and skills, arranged a cross-party letter to the chancellor of the exchequer, with signatures from his counterparts across 23 London boroughs. Denise Hyland, the economy and skills cabinet member in Greenwich, was among them.
Last week, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the Government would pay 80 per cent of wages for employees who are unable to work because of the Covid-19 crisis, covering salaries of up to £2,500 a month.
In the letter councillors welcomed the “unprecedented” move but asked that Sunak take urgent action to “protect [self-employed] workers and their families from hardship” as they were not offered the same support.
The letter warns that many workers will be forced to claim universal credit, and it quotes a recent poll that found nearly half of self-employed people said they would risk going to work even if they had coronavirus symptoms just to make ends meet.
According to the letter: “We wanted to welcome the unprecedented measures you announced last week to protect jobs and incomes. This will go a long way to minimise the economic impact of this crisis. But we believe more needs to be done to protect the self-employed.
“There are five million self-employed workers nationally. The capital has the highest levels of self-employment, with nearly one in five workers – 860,000 in total – being self-employed. Most self-employed workers are not well off; recent research by the Social Market Foundation shows that half are low-paid. Many have little to fall back on in difficult times.
“Many of these workers will be facing a significant drop in income as a result of a crisis that is completely out of their control. We need to ensure that these workers are protected, and that they are able to do the right thing.”
Dromey said: “We welcome the measures taken by the chancellor last week to protect employees and limit the rise in unemployment from the coronavirus crisis. But we need to see urgent action to protect the income of the self-employed.
“We know that many of the 29,000 self-employed workers in Lewisham are facing a significant drop in income from a crisis that is completely out of their control. We are calling on the government to protect these workers and their families from hardship.”
For Greenwich, Hyland said on Twitter that she was “Very happy to have signed this letter to in supporting freelancers and self-employed residents.”
A Treasury spokesperson said: “The Chancellor has outlined an unprecedented package of measures to protect millions of people’s jobs and incomes as part of the national effort in response to coronavirus.
“This includes strengthening the safety net for the self-employed who will benefit from a relaxation of the earnings rules for self-employed claimants under universal credit and deferring income tax self-assessment payments due in July 2020.
“We have always said we will go further where we can and are actively considering further steps.”
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Grainne Cuffe is the Local Democracy Reporter for Lewisham. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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