27th May 2020
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Support for self employed welcomed but ‘gaps remain’

Self employed workers have been giving their responses to a package of support measures offered by the UK government to help industry overcome the impact of coronavirus.

It comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled plans to offer grant aid to the self-employed or partnerships facing financial difficulties.

But isles MP Alistair Carmichael has insisted significant gaps remain.

Under the Coronavirus Self-employment Income Support Scheme, claimants will be granted 80 per cent of their monthly wages, calculated using average monthly profits over last three financial years and capped at £2,500 per month.

Support is currently planned to last for three months only. And some concern has been voiced that the payments are not due to begin until June.

One person worried about the future is Julie Leith, who started a cleaning business Shetland Cleaning Crew four years ago. Her sister Tracey joined the enterprise last year. Four people work for the business altogether.

Despite the uncertainty, she is determined to hang on, despite having had to suspend work because of the lockdown. She is also anxious to protect her clients and her two young daughters.

“Things are kind of tricky at the moment. They’ve come out with a package saying they will help, but as far as I’m aware it’ll not be available until June,” she said.

“I was relieved there was going to be something in place, but by June I don’t ken if I’ll still be able to trade. It’s very up in the air at the moment.”

Coronavirus Disease 2019 Graphic. (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Rosario “Charo” Gutierrez)

Ms Leith said she was unable to work because most of her clients were senior citizens, “and I’m not classed as an essential worker”.

“I’ve had to down tools to protect all of my elderly clients, and the lasses.”

She has noticed a certain irony in having to cancel cleaning jobs at a time when cleaning is considered to be important in order to hold the virus off.

“Once the lockdown had come everybody said ‘wait until the lockdown is over’ and we’ll reschedule the clean. Weirdly, the cleaning has dried up and that’s most important.”

Ms Leith said she was avoiding news bulletins after becoming so concerned about the pandemic.

But she said she was determined to hold on until June when her business may get the support it needs from the government.

“I’m positive we will,” she said. “There are some days where I think we won’t, but I’m trying to stay positive.”

Meanwhile a taxi driver, who did not wish to be named, said he had been able to secure Universal Credit, which he believed that would cover rent and council tax, but very little else.

His business, he said, had been able to stay open “but it is really what you might call bread and milk money”.

The driver added he was not hopeful about the new support being offered, and added he had taken out a finance package on a new car in January, before adding the economic downfall could not have happened at a worse time.

Painter and decorator Fearghas Noblett was dwelling on the positives.

His work has disappeared but he said he believed he and his wife Myra could could survive until June when he will hopefully qualify for a share of the government support.

“It’s a relief that something is in place and compared to a lot of countries we are very, very fortunate to be living in such a democratic time that the government will think of doing that,” he said.

He added he had stopped working despite being initially tempted to carry on.

“I was told that the police have details of everybody’s vehicles and are monitoring those people who would be tempted to go out and work.

“Initially I was. It’s like you feel part of the French Resistance – you’ve got to keep on doing what you do.

“It was ambiguous, where they were saying ‘if you can’t work from home you need to go to work,’ but the goalposts changed quite rapidly.

“We can’t be seen to just be carrying on because that’s quite a selfish thing to do.

“From my point of view it would definitely be wrong for me to sneak around and think I could work..”

He said he believed he could get by until June.

“We have other income, Myra’s working. It’s not disastrous for us. When this is all blown over I’ve still got a job to go to.”

Mr Carmichael welcomed the announcement, but indicated they could have gone further.

“MPs of all parties have been highlighting the lack of support for self-employed people for some days and I am glad that the government is starting to catch up,” he said.

“As I put it to the Prime Minister on Wednesday, self-employed people are not looking for special treatment but for equal treatment with employed people. The measures today seem to go some way towards that.

“There are, however, still large gaps in the support for self-employed people. The wait until June will be extremely challenging for many, especially with the reluctance of many banks to offer bridging loans currently.

“Tourism, which makes up such a vital part of the local economy in the isles, is obviously highly seasonal and yet this is not recognised in the Chancellor’s plan.

“Three months of government support based on an ‘annual average’ will not paper over the financial hole faced by those who rely on the usual summer trade to cover them through the rest of the year.”

About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

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