Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak moved quickly today to provide new financial support to some businesses hit by the latest Covid-19 lockdowns – but thousands of small businesses and entrepreneurs will continue to miss out.
Sunak has unveiled a new round of cash grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses forced to close under the lockdown in England announced yesterday by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
As with previous awards, businesses will qualify for different amounts, based on the rateable value of the premises they occupy: £4,000 for those in properties with a rateable value of £15,000 or less; £6,000 for those in properties with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000; and £9,000 for a those in properties with a rateable value of more than £51,000.
The new support comes on top of previous grants and will operate alongside other government schemes, with businesses across the U.K. continuing to have access to support to furlough staff, as well as to state-backed loan schemes. The Chancellor is also making additional funding available to the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which will operate their own versions of the new grants.
However, the government’s announcement today received only a limited welcome with both business groups and trades unions complaining that more help is needed given the severity of the latest lockdown.
Moreover, the Chancellor continues to reject claims to extend government support to an estimated 3 million Britons who have fallen through the cracks of the financial assistance schemes unveiled so far. These include large numbers of self-employed and freelance workers, as well as company directors whose businesses are registered for tax in an entirely legal fashion but who have been denied support.
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The Government argues that the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) offers crucial assistance to many people in these groups. The SEISS was extended at the end of last year with a third round of grants worth up to £7,500 that can be claimed until 29 January. There will be a fourth round on offer thereafter.
However, the eligibility criteria for the SEISS exclude large numbers of Britons, including those who moved into self-employment after the end of the 2018-19 tax year, those who earn less than 50% of their total income from self-employment, and those who have a track record of earning more than £50,000 a year. In addition, company directors who have paid themselves from business profits via dividends, rather than through the PAYE tax system, are effectively excluded.
ExcludedUK, a not-for-profit group set up to campaign on behalf of workers missing out on financial support during the Covid-19 crisis, estimates that up to 10% of the U.K.’s workforce has found itself excluded from support. In most cases, the only assistance these groups have been able to claim has been from the benefits system.
The group today called for emergency grants to help the 3 million people not currently eligible for support. “Any such emergency payments can be made via the existing tax system and will provide a lifeline for so many,” ExcludedUK said. “This is now of the utmost urgency.”
So far, however, the Chancellor has resisted all such requests to extend the reach of government assistance for businesses and workers, insisting that the U.K. Government’s package of support is among the most generous by international standards.