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Ineligibility for Covid-19 Financial Support

Volume 685: debated on Tuesday 1 December 2020

What representations he has received from organisations representing people who are ineligible for covid-19 financial support schemes; and if he will make a statement. (909585)

What representations he has received from organisations representing people who are ineligible for covid-19 financial support schemes; and if he will make a statement. (909587)

What representations he has received from organisations representing people who are ineligible for covid-19 financial support schemes; and if he will make a statement. (909606)

What representations he has received from organisations representing people who are ineligible for covid-19 financial support schemes; and if he will make a statement. (909613)

What representations he has received from organisations representing people who are ineligible for covid-19 financial support schemes; and if he will make a statement. (909616)

Before I start, I know that Members from around the House will join me in commemorating World AIDS Day and the many organisations that make this day happen. As we remember those we have lost to HIV and AIDS, we also remind ourselves of the need for further action. I am proud that this Conservative Government’s policy is to end new HIV transmission by 2030—a commitment reaffirmed today at the launch of the HIV commission.

Throughout this crisis, the Government’s economic priority has been to protect jobs, livelihoods, businesses and public services, and we have spent more than £280 billion in doing so.

Given that the Chancellor has accepted that the job retention scheme and the self-employed income support scheme need to be in place until March, does he think it is right that those who have fallen through the gaps in those schemes—highlighted by the Federation of Small Businesses—will have been without support for an entire year by then? Why have Ministers not had the decency to meet groups such as ExcludedUK?

My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary is meeting that group and other Members, and I and other members of my team have met various representatives of the self-employed and other employed people who would like to make representations. It is fair to say that I do not agree with the idea that those people have been excluded: the Government have provided support in many different ways to many people in different circumstances. We remain committed to that support throughout this crisis.

Surely the Chancellor can understand that these people do not have any money—they have not benefited from the Government schemes that Members from all parties welcome. How can it be that the Musicians’ Union, ExcludedUK, the FSB and various other organisations and trade unions can be wrong, and that the people who have not benefited from the schemes can be wrong, and the Chancellor can be right? Why does he not accept that he has made a mistake and introduce additional funding to support those people who have been excluded from the schemes?

I am not making the point that every single person can access every single scheme that the Government have put in place. That is not what I am saying; everyone will have different circumstances. What I am saying is that across the suite there is a range of support—a sum total of £280 billion-worth—designed to protect businesses, the employed, the self-employed and public services. Indeed, councils have been given large amounts of funding—billions of pounds—to help those in their communities who need it most, and they are well placed to make those decisions.

In the summer, one of my constituents opened a new bar in a previously thriving area, but she shut it on 23 October as we went into tier 3. She paid her workers for that week, but she could not get furlough support until 1 November because, as hers was a new business, her staff were not eligible for registration with the previous scheme. She is just one of many who the Chancellor will know have fallen through the gaps in his support schemes. Will he recognise the problem, act to close the loopholes and provide the support that is needed, particularly in the hospitality sector and its supply chain?

The hon. Gentleman mentioned support for the hospitality sector and bars; he will of course know that support has been provided through initiatives such as the business rates holiday, which I am sure his constituent benefited from for this entire year up until the point she was struggling, as well as the cash grants for businesses earlier in the crisis, the VAT discount, eat out to help out and the further support provided to local authorities to support the supply chain. There is a significant amount of resource to help businesses like that of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, which I know have had an extremely difficult time.

I was recently contacted by David and Alice, a couple with four young children. They are both directors of Around the Box Limited, but have seen their income slashed this year as a result of the pandemic. Around the Box sells boxes of puzzles and games to encourage families to laugh and connect. I trust the Chancellor will agree that such companies, which bring joy to families in times of real hardship, should be protected. Why, therefore, have my constituents, David and Alice, along with millions of people like them, been excluded from all Government support and left to fend for themselves?

I feel very bad for David and Alice with the difficult situation that they are facing. However, I am sure that their small business, like a million other small companies across the country, has been able to benefit, I hope, from the bounce back loan programme, one of the most successful small business loan programmes that we have seen throughout this crisis. It has provided tens of billions of pounds to a million small and medium-sized businesses—up to £50,000—to help exactly those companies to get through this difficult time.

While the Government have provided support for creative institutions through the culture recovery fund, they are running the risk of losing our world-renowned elite west end musicians who are excluded from financial support due to being freelancers or limited companies. We risk losing these elite skills altogether and damage to the industry would have a negative impact on the ability of young musicians from working-class towns such as Luton being able to pursue a career in music.

Considering the sector provides more than £5 billion to our economy, can the Chancellor update the House on what barriers remain to getting support to musicians?

There is no barrier to support for anyone to access any of the various things that we have put in place. I am glad that the hon. Lady mentioned the culture recovery fund. At £1.5 billion, it is something that I do not believe any other country has done at such a scale, coupled to which is our further support for the creative arts and the film and TV production industry, which my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will be talking about later. We agree that this is an important sector and we want to ensure that it can get back to work.

I would never accuse the Chancellor of misleading the House, but he certainly seems to have misled “Good Morning Britain” when he told viewers that he had spoken to, and had back and forth with, representatives of excluded groups. Those groups are clear that he has not. Will he apologise for the oversight and make amends by meeting MPs and representatives of all groups that have been denied financial support?

I know that my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is meeting with that particular group. In that interview, I was making a general point about the fact that I and my team had met with various representatives of those who are self-employed. It is something that we did right at the beginning of this crisis as we looked to design the self-employed scheme and we have continued to do so throughout.

We all understand that it was hard back in March to get every detail right on Government support schemes, but nine months on, why does the Chancellor still have absolutely nothing new to say to those millions of people right across our country who have been shut out from support since the beginning?

Perhaps the hon. Lady could let me know whether she thinks that it is right to target support on those who are majority self-employed. She refers to the millions of people, but, as I have explained from this Dispatch Box, 1.5 million of the 5 million people who file self-employed tax returns are not majority self-employed; they earn the majority of their income from things such as employment, which means that they can access, for example, the furlough scheme. That was a decision that was made because we are targeting support in a certain way and we do not know what individuals are doing. By the way, the principle of our decision was supported by every organisation that I spoke to as we designed the scheme. Indeed, they were all supportive of a much higher threshold—a less generous threshold—than the one that we ultimately used, which was a majority of 50%. They were all supportive of something higher— 60%. Rest assured, Mr Speaker, that those who are in that category have median self-employment earnings of between £2,000 and £3,000; it is not the primary source of their income. At that level, all the various other things that we have done will be of some help to them.