A vital debate to support Self-employed and Freelance Workers

Yesterday in the House of Commons, it was very encouraging to hear and read about the debate that was started and finished by my own MP, Caroline Lucas. As she expressed very clearly in this tweet, Kemi Badenoch who is the Exchequer secretary to the Treasury chose not to adopt the calls from MPs from all parties to do more to support these workers in our economy. I have written about this in my blog for Monday which is also included in the Argus newspaper and I hope that the call I have made for all Sussex MPs to stand together on this subject will be responded to by them. However in the meantime I have also spent some time reading the text from the debate and I think it is worthy of more than one blog. Before covering some of what Caroline said about the subject it seems vital to repeat a few of her comments that she used to endorse other people. She stated “I would like to pay tribute to the brilliant campaigns, including ExcludedUK, ForgottenPAYE, ForgottenLtd and many others, and individuals such as Amanda Evans and Ellie Phillips who have helped the self-employed find such a powerful and united voice.” Although the response from the Minister was very poor, at the end of her comments Kemi Badenoch did at least state “I will endeavour to make sure that ExcludedUK and ForgottenPAYE, which so many Members praised, receive a ministerial response to their letters, and I am happy to write to those Members who have other areas that they feel have not been addressed today.” So all of us can now contact our MPs and ensure that they like my MP, Caroline can add pressure to Kemi and indeed to her boss who is the Chancellor to deal with these issues. In the meantime here are some of the words raised by Caroline Lucas yesterday at the beginning of her speech.

As it stands, as I am sure all hon. Members know—although, frankly, I am less sure that Treasury Ministers know—the Government scheme penalises a wide range of people. They include those who combine self-employment with pay-as-you-earn work, or PAYE freelancers. They include new start-ups and the recently self-employed. They include women who have taken time out for maternity leave and childcare. They include anyone earning over £50,000. They include those earning less than 50% of their income from self-employment. They include limited company directors who take their income in the form of dividends.

There have been endless requests for the Treasury to meet MPs and those affected by the scheme’s failings to discuss those gaps. Frankly, the exchange between the Chancellor and the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) during Treasury oral questions earlier this week underscored how urgently such a meeting is ​needed. I am not sure whether the Chancellor just does not understand his own scheme or whether he was deliberately being economical with the truth, but when he asserted that the only group of people excluded from the self-employment scheme is those earning more than £50,000, and that their average median salary is apparently £200,000, I did not know whether to laugh or cry. He is completely and utterly wrong. He does not understand his own policy, and we urge him again to meet us so that we can set out the problem.

At this point, I would like to pay tribute to the brilliant campaigns, including ExcludedUK, ForgottenPAYE, ForgottenLtd and many others, and individuals such as Amanda Evans and Ellie Phillips who have helped the self-employed find such a powerful and united voice. I also thank the various hon. Members from right across the House who joined me, campaigners and the money saving expert Martin Lewis at the end of July to symbolically deliver petitions to the Treasury. They were signed by more than 348,000 people and demanded that the gaps in the scheme be urgently closed.

Those campaigns and many individuals have sent copious correspondence to the Chancellor, detailing the various groups of people who are not eligible for income support. His refusal to honestly engage with those suffering as a result of his policies is frankly shameful. The Treasury has met all requests for dialogue with either deafening silence or meaningless stock responses. I am sorry, but that is not good enough.

It is not good enough for my Brighton constituent who was working full time with the BBC as a PAYE freelancer, so he is ineligible for either furlough or self-employment support and, having come relatively recently from Ireland especially to take on the role at the BBC, he is not eligible for universal credit either. He says that how he has been treated during this crisis has financially ruined him. It is not good enough for Deniz Turan, a sole trader who has gone, in her own words, from being a successful businesswoman to being homeless and feeling suicidal every day in the blink of an eye, simply because she was a start-up who took her income in dividend payments. And it is not good enough for Mark, another small limited company director, who says that the strain of getting no income support on his marriage, his household, his mental health, his physical health and his finances is literally unbearable.

The self-employed have been failed by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, and it is not just me making that argument. As hon. Members will know, an all-party parliamentary group has recently been formed. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) for setting up the APPG, which represents those who have not been protected by the various Government packages. It is I think one of the fastest growing APPGs in parliamentary history. It currently has around 260 MPs from all sides of the House, including 79 from the Government Benches, while 15 Conservative MPs added their names to the application for this debate to take place.

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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