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Scottish Government demands Covid-19 help for self-employed

Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes have written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

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Fiona Hyslop and Kate Forbes have called for the Jobs Retention Scheme to be expanded to the self-employed (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Fiona Hyslop and Kate Forbes have called for the Jobs Retention Scheme to be expanded to the self-employed (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Fiona Hyslop and Kate Forbes have called for the Jobs Retention Scheme to be expanded to the self-employed (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The Scottish Government has called on the chancellor to offer more help to self-employed workers impacted by coronavirus.

In a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes demanded the Jobs Retention Scheme be expanded to the self-employed.

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, UK employers can access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary. HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs up to £2,500 per month.

Cabinet Secretary for Finance Kate Forbes (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The UK Government has also removed the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor to allow those who are self employed to more readily access the state benefit.

However, the Scottish Government letter says this “does not go far enough”.

An HM Treasury spokesman said it was “actively considering further steps”.

The letter states: “The goal should be a more comprehensive version of the Jobs Retention Scheme that encompasses the self-employed.

“The action taken in other countries suggest there are credible mechanisms that can support the self-employed. In Norway and Denmark, wage support schemes have been extended to cover the self-employed by covering their lost incomes based on earnings in previous years.”

The letter also calls for means-testing for Universal Credit to be relaxed to “ensure that the self-employed, whether with savings or other household income, are not denied support.”

There are 330,000 self-employed workers in Scotland.

We stand ready to work with you to develop an effective support package and I will continue to encourage employers to keep staff in their work and take the responsible steps that are critical for our public health and economy.Scottish Government letter

The ministers also urged the chancellor to “change the rules so that more people can access Statutory Sick Pay and its value is increased so it provides a far more effective safety net”.

“I welcome the more regular Ministerial contact that is now happening to support our collective response across the economy and public finances,” the letter adds.

“I understand there will be both a Finance Ministers’ and an Economy Ministers’ quadrilateral discussion this week, which we will join for our respective interests. Our officials will also be speaking tomorrow and it is important that additional support for the self-employed is on the agenda for that discussion.

“We stand ready to work with you to develop an effective support package and I will continue to encourage employers to keep staff in their work and take the responsible steps that are critical for our public health and economy.

“I will also continue to encourage business to business prompt payment of invoices, recognising the temptation to improve company cash flow by delaying payment.

“The Scottish Government will of course continue to ensure we pay our suppliers as early as we possibly can.”

Responding to the letter, an HM Treasury spokesman 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.”

PA