Freelance package offers hope, but also problems
New scheme for freelances in the UK after NUJ lobbying.
The NUJ has welcomed the Chancellor's new package for freelances affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, but said it doesn't go far enough.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the government will pay self-employed people, adversely affected by the coronavirus, a taxable grant worth 80 per cent of their average monthly profits over the last three years, up to £2,500 a month. It will be open to anyone with an income up to £50,000, but only those who have a tax return for 2019 will be able to apply. Treasury officials agreed to consult with the NUJ and sister unions on how the scheme will work.
The NUJ had lobbied hard for protection for freelances who had been left out of a deal whereby businesses would get grants to cover 80 per cent of their workers' salaries.
The NUJ has called for sole traders to be able to apply for the same loans as businesses and that thresholds for universal credit be dropped as many freelances are barred from applying because they have money put by to pay tax and other contingencies. The government did agree to ask HMRC to defer its date to collect payments on account, due on July 31 and the next quarter of VAT payments.
The NUJ's freelance office has been inundated with members who are already suffering and whose work dried up virtually overnight.
Pamela Morton, freelance national organiser, said:
"Freelances had all but been forgotten, so we are pleased the Treasury has listened to us and our sister unions, as many of our members are desperate and facing a terrifying future with all their work cancelled. We welcome the offer from the Treasury to look at the details and how the deal will work for members, but our concern is that funding will just not reach people soon enough and that for those with higher overheads and those just starting as self-employed – often the most difficult and expensive time for them – there is little help."
Francis Sedgemore, Freelance Industrial Council chair, said:
"Our freelance members will welcome the news that the UK has finally caught up with other European states and stepped in to help the self-employed. Rishi Sunak's income support package is fair, reasonable, but there are holes through which some will fall.
It doesn't apply to those who have only recently become self-employed, or are ineligible for Universal Credit owing to personal savings or other household income. The Universal Credit savings rule should be relaxed, and I would urge government to look seriously at a Universal Basic Income going forward. An increasingly precarious, multi-jobbing economy demands it."
While the package was largely praised as generous it will not work for everyone. The Chancellor claimed it would cover 95 per cent of the self-employed. The main problem is that the Treasury has said it is unlikely to get money to people until June.
This will offer little succour to one member who told the NUJ:
"I have been laid off from the newspaper I've been working for as a freelance sub for more than two years and I had seven shifts lined up for April. I had work booked up to the middle of June and now I have none. I will have money coming into the end of April, assuming my outstanding invoices get paid. Then nothing. I can't help crying as I don't know how I'll survive."
The freelance office has provided comprehensive advice for those forced to navigate the complexities of Statutory Sick Pay, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit and the Self-employment Income Support Scheme.
Read the Chancellor's statement about new coronavirus support measures for the self-employed.