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Conor Murphy urges Chancellor Rishi Sunak to help self-employed and all on zero-hour contracts

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Conor Murphy has appealed to Rishi Sunak

Conor Murphy has appealed to Rishi Sunak

Lord Empey has called for help for small businesses

Lord Empey has called for help for small businesses

Conor Murphy has appealed to Rishi Sunak

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been urged to give financial support to self-employed and zero-hour contract workers by Stormont's Finance Minister.

Conor Murphy has written to Rishi Sunak to ask him to introduce measures to support all workers affected by the Covid-19 crisis.

The Chancellor has introduced a scheme that will see those employees at risk of losing their jobs receive 80% of their wages from the Government in a scheme that will subsidise businesses.

However, Mr Murphy said that while he welcomed this intervention, other workers - such as those working zero-hour contracts, sole traders and the self-employed - are "outside the scope of the scheme".

"I very much welcome the announcement of a scheme to subsidise the payroll costs of businesses. This has reassured many people that their jobs and livelihoods will be sustained during this unprecedented health crisis.

"However, many workers, including sole traders, the self-employed, people on zero-hour contracts, and agency workers fall outside the scope of the scheme. This is causing huge anxiety and I urge you to take urgent action to support them also."

His plea was echoed by Economy Minister Diane Dodds who, writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, revealed the Executive is asking Westminster to rectify this for the self-employed and sole traders.

"The Executive has asked Treasury to extend support to this category, either by averaging out the past years' earnings to calculate a figure or by paying a guaranteed income," she said.

Her comments come as one of her ministerial predecessors, Lord Empey, appealed for more help for small and micro-businesses here.

He said these smaller-scale operations are facing the "biggest challenge they have ever confronted".

The former Ulster Unionist leader also called on Invest NI to fund grants so that these smaller enterprises could seek advice from accountancy and advice companies to see out the coronavirus crisis. Firms in Northern Ireland offering such services could include PwC or Grant Thornton.

Lord Empey noted that while there have been a series of announcements in recent days from the Chancellor and Executive offering help, "many of these schemes have not been fully worked out, and many of our small businesses are immediately starved of cash with forced closures and no customers".

The peer added: "I think it would be helpful if Invest NI, working with the Department for the Economy, drew up a scheme to offer professional help to these businesses and individuals to help guide people though the complexity of what is on offer.

"Such a scheme could give grants to these firms to engage accountants and business advisers on the best way forward for them and to help them establish what help they can apply for.

"I would also ask that the main accountancy bodies... would undertake this work at as modest a cost as possible, making this their contribution to the restoration of our economy.

"Now is the time to act. It will cost less in the end than having to pay out vast amounts of unemployment and other benefits in the future."

Belfast Telegraph