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Self-employed People: Covid-19

Volume 683: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2020

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on support for self-employed people during the covid-19 outbreak. (908529)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on Government support for self-employed people during the covid-19 outbreak. (908558)

The Government have so far provided £13.2 billion of support to self-employed people through the self-employment income support scheme, and that support continues. The UK’s self-employment scheme is among the most generous internationally.

According to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, the solo self-employed contributed an estimated £305 billion to the UK economy last year. So why have 1.6 million self-employed people been excluded from Government support during the pandemic? What will the Minister do to address this failure of Government to recognise the huge contribution self-employed people make to the economy and to our communities?

As the hon. Lady will know, the self-employment scheme has been targeted at those who derive the majority of their income from self-employment. I hope she will welcome an extension of that scheme, which the Chancellor has announced. It will now last for a further six months, from November of this year to April 2021.

Following yesterday’s news about a covid vaccine, for the first time in a while it feels as though there may be an end in sight. If it becomes clear that a return to normality will be possible in the next few months, surely the only responsible approach is to expand support and adopt a true “whatever it takes” approach to help all businesses, including those currently excluded. So in the light of yesterday’s news, will the Secretary of State agree to work with the Treasury to review the economic support currently on offer?

One feature of the pandemic has been that we have indeed reviewed the support and provided further support where it is needed. As I said, we have extended the self-employment income support scheme, which means an extra £7.3 billion of support for the self-employed through November to January. Of course, we all hope that a vaccine comes forward, but the support is there, as well as support in terms of grants for businesses that are required to be closed.

The Secretary of State continues to duck the question. He has been told for about seven months of those excluded from support—the battered, bruised and brushed off. We are talking about the 3 million—the newly self-employed, the directors and the freelancers who have been given nothing. He is the Business Secretary, so is it that the Chancellor has ignored his calls for support or is it just that he simply does not care?

The hon. Gentleman knows me quite well and I think he will understand, at least in private, that I do very much care, as does every Member of this House. He talks about those who are not able to get access to this scheme, and, obviously, one issue relates to those who are paid in dividends. As he knows, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has made the point that it is difficult to distinguish between income earned through an individual’s own company dividends and dividends that have been paid from holding shares in other companies. If the hon. Gentleman has suggestions as to how we might overcome this, I would be interested to work with him.