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Coronavirus Kent: Self-employed workers to receive same financial support as employed

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Additional reporting by Rebecca Tuffin

The government has today announced financial support for people who are self-employed as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to upend the country.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak today announced plans to support self-employed workers
Chancellor Rishi Sunak today announced plans to support self-employed workers

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled yet another "unprecedented" package of measures, including a taxable grant worth up to 80% of average monthly profits over the last three years.

The Chancellor said the financial relief "matches" the provisions announced for employed people last week, in which the government announced it will pay 80% of people's salaries up to £2,500 a month.

He said: "I know many self-employed people are deeply anxious.To you I say this; you have not been forgotten. We will not leave you behind."

The self-employed scheme will be open to anyone with trading profits of up to £50,000, and available to those who are majority self-employed.

Self-employed workers will be able to access the scheme from the beginning of June, and will need a tax return from 2019 to apply.

"You have not been forgotten. We will not leave you behind..."

Mr Sunak described the scheme as "deliverable and fair."

He also said those who missed out on the tax return deadline will have another four weeks from today to submit.

People who will receive the taxable grant could include construction workers, hairdressers, and taxi drivers as well as people in creative industries like actors and writers.

Since the coronavirus arrived in the UK, self-employed workers across Kent have been hit hard.

Part-time hairdresser Lizette Ayers is already having to dip into her savings to cover bills since custom began drying up.

Lizette Ayers said her business has suffered since the outbreak
Lizette Ayers said her business has suffered since the outbreak

The 57-year-old from Maidstone says since the beginning of last week, people began cancelling appointments.

Miss Ayers, who lives alone, said: "Most of my customers are over 70 so they started cancelling last Monday and then it got worse as the week went on."

Suffering with kidney disease and diabetes, Miss Ayers began self-isolating on Saturday, which has stopped any income whatsoever.

James Richards co-directs Medway and Maidstone Scaffolding and says it had actually been pretty busy for him and his business partner Ashley Truelove until Monday, when the prime minister announced people must stay at home unless necessary.

Construction workers are being told they are allowed to continue working under the new lockdown rules, but Mr Richards says everyone has been very confused about the situation, which has affected business.

James Richards said the construction industry has been in a state of confusion since the lockdown began
James Richards said the construction industry has been in a state of confusion since the lockdown began

Speaking to KentOnline before today's announcement, the 30-year-old said: "Since Monday, lots of the sub-contractors we work with, like roofers for example, have been shutting up shop and we've had a lot of jobs cancelled.

"Some people want to carry on working but others are worried as it's hard to be more than two metres away from someone on a building site, and you're passing a lot of stuff between you.

"There's just so much confusion. We should be looking at the government website to find out what to do but we are just asking each other."

Mr Richards, who lives in Maidstone with his partner and two children, had been hoping for the government to give self-employed people "anything that can help."

He said: "If we're getting no work, it would be good if they could just let us take some money out of what we'd normally pay for business tax to feed our families, and then when it comes to paying it, we prove what we have spent on living costs and then pay it back a bit later."

He added: "I feel more sorry for people who are employing others. It's just me and my business partner, but if we had other people to pay too it would be a lot worse."

Speaking after the announcement, Mr Richards said: "The package is not too bad for me, it's just a case of waiting for the money.

"My accountant thinks we may be able to get some leeway with business tax hopefully, if we show we haven't had any work, and pay ourselves that way in the meantime."

The Department of Health and Social Care have said sadly 578 patients who tested positive for coronavirus have now died in Britain, as of Friday, March 27.

Rachel McDonough's baby is due in five weeks but her partner, self-employed air conditioning technician, Kieron Payne, is not eligible to claim any money under the government's new scheme.

All of the 25-year-old's work has been cancelled and being as he only started working for himself last May, he has just missed the cut-off point. The support scheme states you need to provide a tax return for 2018/19, which Mr Payne does not have.

Miss McDonough, also 25 and living in Maidstone, said: "I'm on maternity leave and so he brings home most of the money.

"We were hopeful until they said you need a tax return from 2018/19. I'm going to ring the job centre today to see if there is anything we can do. He pays all his tax and has proof of it all and was meant to be doing his tax return in April this year.

The Kent County Council employee added:"It's just all very messy and we are now struggling and it’s piling on stress on top of expecting a baby.

"I’m hoping that we can get something, even if it’s not the 80%. We need something to pay the bills. We are just praying it doesn’t last long so he can get back to work as soon as possible."

Analysis from political editor Paul Francis

The package of measures designed to give thousands of self-employed people a chance of riding out the coronavirus will, of course, come too late for some.

Just like the emergency measures for employers and their employees, however, the government insists that it will give those who are self-employed a fighting chance of keeping their head above water.

The key issue is whether the government can set up a system which is easily accessible and quick to implement - and comparable with the scheme set up for businesses.

Many of those who are self-employed have seen their earnings fall abruptly, often within a few days, and many have endured that without any financial cushion or savings.

Many are already low earners - cleaners, childminders, taxi drivers - and if the package of measures cannot be implemented swiftly, there is a risk more will go under.

And the deadline of June for the scheme to be implemented will be a cause for concern.

The Chancellor emphasised that despite the measures, it was not realistic to expect that every business or self-employed person would survive - injecting a dose of realism.

But the steps announced seem to have gone down well initially. As ever, the devil will be in the detail.

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