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Coronavirus Job Support Schemes

Volume 680: debated on Tuesday 15 September 2020

What assessment he has made of the potential effect on levels of unemployment of withdrawing the (a) coronavirus job retention and (b) self-employment income support schemes. (906051)

What steps his Department is taking to support self-employed people affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (906065)

What assessment he has made of the financial effect of the covid-19 outbreak on people who were not eligible for either the coronavirus job retention scheme or the self-employment income support scheme; and if he will make a statement. (906067)

What steps his Department is taking to support self-employed people affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (906069)

What assessment he has made of the financial effect of the covid-19 outbreak on people who were not eligible for either the coronavirus job retention scheme or the self-employment income support scheme; and if he will make a statement. (906071)

What assessment he has made of the financial effect of the covid-19 outbreak on people who were not eligible for either the coronavirus job retention scheme or the self-employment income support scheme; and if he will make a statement. (906080)

The Government have put in place a broad set of policies to support businesses and individuals through this crisis. The coronavirus job retention scheme and self-employment income support scheme have supported more than 9 million and 2.7 million jobs and people respectively. As the economy reopens, we must adjust our support to ensure that people continue to get back to work, protecting the UK economy and people’s livelihoods.

The Institute for Employment Studies is now predicting 450,000 redundancies over the three months to September and a further 200,000 by the end of the year—more than double the levels seen in the 2008-09 recession. Many of those whose jobs are at risk work in the creative industries, performing arts and hospitality, which would be thriving without coronavirus. Why is the Chancellor persisting with a cliff-edge approach, which will inflict the hardship and misery of unemployment on so many people, instead of taking a flexible approach to furlough to save good jobs for the long term?

The furlough scheme, as it is currently constructed, is flexible. It was a key demand from business groups and unions, which we responded to. As the economy is slowly reopening over the late summer and autumn, the furlough scheme has adapted to that, allowing businesses to bring back their employees in a flexible fashion, and that is exactly what they are currently doing.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the introduction of the self-employment income support scheme in particular, but does he recognise that it cannot continue indefinitely? Does he also agree that the self-employed are some of the most innovative individuals in our economy, and it is time to release their innovation to kick-start us?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Now that we have begun to reopen the economy, it is right that our support becomes differentiated and the focus shifts to getting people back to work. It is not possible to sustain this level of intervention. I fully agree with him: those who are entrepreneurial and self-employed deserve our support, and they will continue to get it as we drive our recovery out of this crisis.

Hundreds of thousands of people across the country, including many in my constituency, have not been able to get support during this pandemic. The Government have repeatedly said that it is too difficult to get support to people who are not on the coronavirus job retention scheme or the self-employment income support scheme. The Government have had six months to put something in place, so will the Chancellor outline to the House what barriers exist now to getting support to the people who have so far been excluded?

As I have said from this Dispatch Box, we have not been able to help absolutely everyone in the exact way that they would have liked, but that does not mean that support is not available. Through considerable increases in universal credit and local housing allowance, we have provided support to the most vulnerable. Through measures such as mortgage holidays, which one in six mortgage customers has taken up in the past few months, we have ensured that everyone, one way or another, can access some degree of Government support.

Over £33 million of bounce back loans have been granted to businesses in Darlington, but many businesses in my constituency bank with new start-up, online and challenger banks and have faced some issues with accessing bounce back loans. What steps is the Treasury taking to assist with access to bounce back loans for those who need them?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and we recognise the vital role that alternative lenders can play in providing finance to SMEs. We continue to work with them and the sector to see what more we can do. As he recognises, the bounce back loan scheme has proved enormously successful, and so far we have accredited 28 bounce back lenders, who have provided loans to more than 1 million businesses. In the first instance, I urge businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency to look online at one of those 28 lenders, and see whether it can provide the loans that they require.

The Chancellor, and all of us whose salaries have been paid throughout the pandemic, may find it difficult to grasp the deep sense of unfairness felt by those who, through no fault of their own, are entirely excluded from any support. Perhaps they followed their entrepreneurial dream and left a good job to start their own business, as encouraged to do by this Government, but did not file their tax returns in time. Perhaps they have an event business that has been left to fend for itself without any events. There are thousands of such people in my constituency alone. How can the Chancellor expect the country to come together to fight the virus when so many have been excluded from all support?

I respectfully disagree with the hon. Lady. Most people in the country recognise that the Government have provided unprecedented support at this difficult time to millions of people, as well as hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of businesses. Although people may not have been able to get support in the exact way they would have wanted, across the spectrum, whether through the welfare system and local authorities, or through banks and the provision of credit, we have ensured that some form of support is available to the vast majority of the British public.

It is now been six months during which 3 million self-employed people have been excluded and locked out of the coronavirus support schemes, and it is no coincidence that this week the Trussell Trust announced an unprecedented need for support. Nearly half those people are first-time users, and if the forecasts are right, the situation will only get worse, with six emergency food parcels being delivered every minute as we get to winter. I implore the Chancellor to tell us what he will do to support those who are excluded, so that this disaster does not turn into a catastrophe for families around the country.

The hon. Lady is slightly confused. She speaks about people who were not eligible for the self-employment scheme, but those who were excluded earned more than £50,000 and were in the top 5% of all earners, with an average median salary of £200,000. In the same question, she speaks about targeting support to those who cannot afford food. She should figure out which issue she cares about.

When the circumstances change, policies should adapt. Infection rates are growing, local restrictions are becoming more common, and this morning’s figures show levels of unemployment at a two-year high, and rising, particularly among the young. France and Germany have extended their employment support for a further year. Is it time to reconsider the jobs cliff edge that is approaching at the end of next month, and at least to extend employment support to sectors that cannot yet go back to work and areas hit by local lockdowns, so that businesses and workers are not punished for doing the right thing?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the increase in cases, which is why the Government have taken steps to ensure that we remain in control in suppressing the virus. He talks about local lockdowns, and he will have seen the announcement last week about extra business rates support for businesses that find themselves in those areas, with a payment of up to £1,500 per three weeks of lockdown. He mentioned other countries. He is right about Germany and its scheme, but it is worth bearing in mind that Germany has had such a scheme, in co-operation with businesses and through its social security system, for more than a decade.

As you might expect, Mr Speaker, the Public Accounts Committee is already beginning the reckoning of costs, and there is a cost to the Exchequer from all those people who were self-employed, or employed on short-term contracts, and who received no support. Ultimately, the state still has to support those people, and no tax comes in from them. Will the Chancellor go back to the drawing board and consider the long-term issue of the cost to our country of not supporting people who have a good track record with HMRC and who could be supported? They have lived on fresh air for all these months.

I hear what the hon. Lady says and will certainly reflect on it. I refer her to my response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates) about the importance of a digital taxation system, in which I know the hon. Lady’s Committee will have an interest. As has been the case throughout this crisis, our ability to respond in the way that we would want to is often limited by the information that we hold. My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has put out a 10-year tax administration strategy that will ensure that our tax system collects in real time the information we need about people and businesses up and down this country, so that, should something like this happen again, the Government can respond in the way that they would want to, as quickly as possible.