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Self-Employed People: Covid-19 Support

Volume 685: debated on Tuesday 1 December 2020

What steps his Department is taking to support self-employed people affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (909593)

What steps his Department is taking to support self-employed people affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (909604)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) will be aware, the Government have taken unprecedented steps to support the self-employed during this crisis, and that includes through the self-employment income support scheme, which has been extended up to April, with details of the third grant published last week.

Many self-employed people are at the forefront of innovation and start-ups. Can my right hon. Friend tell me what the Treasury is doing to support innovation as we look to rebuild our economy?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of innovation. She will be delighted to know that the Government are protecting innovators and start-ups from the impact of covid through almost £900 million of future fund loans to date, £79 million for innovation loans as well as other grants, and that comes on top of more than £5 billion of support through research and development tax credits claimed for 2018-19 so far, which support more than £35 billion of R&D expenditure.

I thank my right hon. Friend for all he has done so far to support the self-employed, but will he keep an open mind when it comes to future support? As he will be aware, millions have benefited from the schemes he has introduced, but there is a minority who have not. As the pandemic is lasting longer than we had imagined, will he look again at what else can be done for those who have had no income for nine months?

I should make it perfectly clear to my hon. Friend, as the Chancellor has, that we take these points extremely seriously. We have been given many different suggestions over the past few months for ways in which we could accommodate these concerns. We have looked at them very closely, and so far we have struggled to find one that meets the need to avoid the fraud risk that bedevils this concern. I responded last week to the latest request to meet from the Federation of Small Businesses, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and Forgotten Ltd to explore the latest of these schemes. I have also said that I would be happy to meet the all-party parliamentary group, alongside ExcludedUK, to address these questions.

When will the recently announced increase in the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme term from six to 10 years come into effect? That is of particular importance to businesses that have been hard hit by the crisis, such as the wedding venue and hospitality sectors in Clwyd South and elsewhere in the UK.

We of course recognise the concerns that my hon. Friend raises. We should be clear that the purpose of this extension is not simply to allow borrowers to request a 10-year term. It is that the guarantee offered by the Government on these schemes should be extended up to 10 years where lenders deem that a forbearance tool that borrowers may need and benefit from. My colleagues are working at pace with the British Business Bank to implement the policy in line with state aid rules.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that self-employed people and freelancers—many of whom are formed as limited companies, not because they choose to but because they are required to do so by the agencies or contractors they work for or by insurers—continue to fall through the net? Would it not be a good idea for him to meet directly some of those who work in these sectors? I suspect that many of those who advise him in the Treasury have no understanding of how self-employment actually works.

As my hon. Friend will be aware, I have a history of being closely involved with the performing arts sector. As I have indicated, I will be meeting many of the groups representing people in this situation. He should be aware that, in addition to the £1.57 billion culture recovery fund, the Government have put in place the film and TV insurance scheme, to which more than 150 applications have been made so far. The Government do and continue to take these issues extremely seriously.

The situation for the self-employed is especially difficult in areas with additional restrictions and for those working in the hardest hit sectors. The Government’s additional restrictions grant must go further in areas that have been in restrictions for longer. What plans do the Government have to improve this situation?

The hon. Lady will be aware that we have backdated business grants to address some of these concerns. It is also worth mentioning that the third phase alone of the self-employed scheme is expected to cost more than £7 billion. As the Chancellor said, it is part of a wider package of support that we are trying to give to businesses and individuals affected by the crisis.