The millions missing out

We’ve waved our flags for VE Day, we’ve spent Thursday evenings clapping the NHS and we’ve listened to the PM thanking us for doing the right thing, staying at home and saving lives.

We’re all in this together and together we’ll beat it – right? Well, not really.

Hospitality UK, the trade body for the third largest employment sector in the country, say that of the 3.2 million people it employs, only 84% have been able to receive money from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

That leaves somewhere between 250,000 and 300,000 that could not be furloughed because of the way the scheme was set up and a similar number again who are seasonal workers that will be left out because they will not now be employed.

That’s just one sector of the economy, and not the biggest. According to a BECTU survey cited in The Stage of 1,900 PAYE freelancers in the creative industries, 47% of respondents were not employed on March 1 and do not expect to be eligible for support through the retention scheme. The survey also found 23% believed that their most recent employer could furlough them but would not do so, and only 2% had been furloughed.

Another big group are sole directors of companies who pay themselves through dividends and so aren’t eligible for the scheme. There could be as many as a million of those workers, people who have all been playing a part in our economy, who now can’t access this vital assistance that is being given to others.

The furlough scheme is going to cost us all something like £40 billion, the self employment benefit a further £10 billion. If you’ve slipped through the cracks you must contend with the double insult of missing out on the money in the first place and then having to pay it all back in the years to come. That won’t be a small penance. In the financial crash of 2008 the country’s borrowing tipped over £100 billion. In the four months of this Covid-19 crisis we’ll have borrowed £220 billion. That ought to put it into perspective.

The tax and benefit system has to be fair and equitable. Disenfranchising more than a million hard working taxpayers is a massive failing. A Universal Basic Income (UBI) would have been fair, easy and secure. The most vulnerable wouldn’t have fallen through the cracks and it could have been a blueprint for an enlightened future where we set the minimum well about utter destitution.

Of course it is paradoxical if you have a Conservative ideology. So even if they don’t go as far as a UBI, I hope the Government urgently addresses the inequalities in the current system they have created.

* Tim Bearder is a former BBC Journalist from Oxfordshire. He was the South Central Campaigns Officer from 2012 to the general election in 2015. He fought in campaigns including the Eastleigh by-election, the successful South East euro election in 2014 and is now serves as a West End Parish Councillor, an Eastleigh Borough Councillor and an Oxfordshire County Councillor. He has stood in the West Midland Euro Region and as the Banbury PPC in 2019. He runs a film and video production company.

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  • Directors paying themselves via dividends have been avoiding paying national insurance and their obligations under the social contract we have with the state. Why do they now think the state should fulfil its side of a contract they have already reneged on. My heart bleeds for them – NOT.

  • Arnie – fair point in principle, though surely if they’re already covered by IR35 (e.g. contracting for a public sector organisation) and paying their NICs as if they were employees, then they should be able to benefit?

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