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Covid-19: Support for Self-employed People

Volume 693: debated on Tuesday 27 April 2021

The Government announced at Budget 2021 that the self-employment income support scheme, or SEISS, will continue until September, with the fourth and then the final fifth grant. This provides certainty to business as the economy reopens, and it means that the SEISS will continue to be one of the most generous schemes for the self-employed in the world, and one of the few where support is committed until September.

Is it not the case that under this Chancellor the Tories have gone from being seen as freelancer-friendly to the party of sleaze with their selective texts and promises of favours for their pals? If not, can they fix— their expression—the situation for up to 3 million people who have been excluded from all the grants the Minister mentioned, and from universal credit, and have been forced into bankruptcy, debt and worse, with 19 self-employed suicides in the past year? What are they doing about it?

The hon. Lady will know that the SEISS is one of the most generous schemes of its kind. The range of overall measures that the Government have taken is one of the most comprehensive of its kind in the world. I think she also knows that I personally and my officials have leant in as hard as we can to understand and to work with those groups to see whether we could extend the schemes. It has not been possible, because of features of the design of the tax system, but we have absolutely spent every effort possible to try to make it so.

More than 900,000 people who were self-employed at the start of the crisis, including many in the creative industries sector, now say that they are having to leave the sector as the crisis comes to an end. Does the Minister agree that the lack of support for the self-employed, who are not covered by the existing schemes, risks damaging the recovery we so desperately need?

A very large majority of the self-employed are, of course, covered by the schemes, and therefore I think that the hon. Gentleman’s concern is misplaced. Of course there will always be change in employments of different kinds, and in a dynamic economy such as ours, that is to be expected. If we can get through this desperate crisis—the worst for 300 years—with anything like any of the projected outcomes, that is something we can all, self-employed or not, be profoundly grateful for.

In a recent letter to me, the Financial Secretary admitted that 710,000 freelancers who receive a portion of their income from dividends have missed out on covid support schemes. He recognised that most people are honest in their dealings with HMRC, but said that concerns over fraud meant

“it has not been possible to support everyone in the way they might want”.

The Government have had a year to put in place a process with adequate safeguards. Why have they given up?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Of course, there was no admission of any kind. He asked me a question, and I responded comprehensively and fully to the question he put. The fact of the matter is that many of the people we are talking about have other forms of income. They may have pension income. They may have dividend income. They may have property income. What we have tried to do is use all the sources of information that we have that are properly assessed and certified in order to get schemes up and running—as fast as anywhere in the world, and that is an astonishing achievement. We continue to use those schemes, and we continue to work with groups to see whether others can be included.