The economic measures to help people through the coronavirus pandemic announced by Rishi Sunak last night were a good start but we need the government to go much further.
Here are five things we need quick action from the government on to protect people’s livelihoods, as people are forced to stay at home more in order to protect themselves and others.
Self-employed people and ‘mobile businesses’
While the Chancellor has pledged a number of measures to help businesses through the pandemic, he has not yet announced adequate support for self-employed and freelance workers. Measures such as those announced on mortgage payments and alleviating hardship fall short of guaranteeing these workers’ income. The Government needs to bring forward measures to protect the incomes of these workers as a matter of urgency as many of them are already losing their livelihoods as business collapses and bookings are cancelled.
Those on low pay and zero-hours contracts
Currently, only workers with average weekly earnings of at least £118 are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. But according to the Trade Unions Congress, a third of people on zero-hours contracts do not earn enough to qualify; either not working enough hours or because their hours vary week-by-week. I support the TUC’s call on the Government to make Statutory Sick Pay available for all workers, and to increase it to at least the level of the living wage.
If the Government is going to persevere in referring these workers to Universal Credit, they should at least immediately end the 5-week waiting period so that nobody finds themselves unable to afford the essentials as a result of coronavirus.
The assurance that those with mortgages who experience difficulty will be able to take a three-month ‘holiday’ will be welcome news for millions up and down the country. However, nothing has yet been announced to protect renters. Tenants need assurance that loss of earnings over this period will not lead to them being evicted from their properties. The Government had previously signalled its intention to abolish Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions – it should bring forward emergency legislation to ensure that Section 21 powers are suspended while the country is facing a pandemic.
Continuity for business
The measures announced last night will provide some temporary relief for some (but not all) businesses but we need a clearer strategy from the government for long-term planning. Business continuity loans may be helpful for some businesses, but they’re only a solution if the losses those companies suffer due to coronavirus are recovered afterwards. This will be increasingly unlikely the longer the pandemic lasts. Many in the hospitality and leisure industry are already living hand-to-mouth and won’t get back the money they’ll lose from cancelled events and from people not going out over the next weeks and months.
No doubt some traders will find the grants for small businesses, business rates discounts and clarification on claiming on insurance helpful to tie them over. More will be needed to help businesses through the next few months. We need guarantees from the government to underwrite losses caused by any coronavirus-related downturn and a long-term strategy on the support the government will give businesses if people are still having to self-isolate over the next three/six/twelve months.
Crisis grants for Councils
Whatever measures are proposed by the government to try and help people through this difficult period, there are always likely to be people who ‘fall through the cracks’. The Government should set aside a large sum of money for hardship funds for Councils to administer to cover people made redundant, food grants and childcare costs if schools close, and funds for charities and community groups providing relief for people confined to homes.