Paper provides options to ease anguish of those excluded from Government support - Greg Wright

DURING times of crisis, it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and tear Government policy to pieces.

Although the public purse is under great strain, this white paper provides Rishi Sunak with a potential road map out of this crisis.
Although the public purse is under great strain, this white paper provides Rishi Sunak with a potential road map out of this crisis.

However, it is possible to tread a nobler and more public-spirited path to help ease the anguish of people left without an income.

This enlightened route has been chosen by the Centre Think Tank which has compiled a draft white paper which makes the case for expanding the furlough scheme. The paper sets out four solutions that will help some of the people who have been refused access or excluded from the Government’s income support schemes.

The need for the extension of support was made painfully clear in a Parliamentary debate. The case of a Yorkshire woman - Nicola - was cited by Tracy Brabin, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, to illustrate the types of honest, law abiding people who are in deep distress.

Ms Brabin said: “Entrepreneurs, business people, creatives and strivers who have worked with their employers and been paid in any way the employer deems more convenient are now paying a heavy price for that flexibility...Nicola is 46 and a single mum of two girls in West Yorkshire. She is on a zero-hours contract with a publicly funded charity, working in the supported living sector and paid the minimum wage.

“She asked to be furloughed but was told that she could not because her job was publicly funded..

Ms Brabin added: “Her application for unemployment benefits was refused as she was still under contract and had received a wage. Nicola was not just excluded from support; she was refused support and had to live on child benefit, going deep into arrears.”

Nicola, who lives near Ilkley, told me: “The stress has been unimaginable and is still going on. The Government made the mistake of letting the employers decide as to whether to furlough employees or not.”

Which brings us to the ideas contained in the Centre Think Tank’s paper. The group’s first solution would lead to the creation of a new access point for those who were refused furlough by their employer, but otherwise meet all the criteria to join the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

This could be done if the Government opened up the CJRS to workers using a new access point within the system so both workers and employees are able to access the CJRS, the think tank’s paper states. This increase in worker involvement would be similar to the French temporary unemployment scheme, where workers have the ability to negotiate their own individual agreements.

The second solution suggests that the Government increases the £50,000 cap that is currently placed on trading profits under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). When this limit is reached, those who apply for the SEISS are no longer able to access the scheme, even if their trading profits are much lower this year due to the pandemic, according to the white paper.

To ensure that people in this position were included, the SEISS would need to be altered so that it allows anyone with a trading profit of £100,000 to claim access to the scheme.

The third proposed solution would involve changing the current rule which means that 50% of a self-employed person’s income must be from self-employment.

This has resulted in those who started a company just before the pandemic being left without much, if any, support from the Government, as they may not be eligible for support from the CJRS. To fix this, the rule should be altered so that a person only has to earn 20% of their income from self-employment in order to claim from the SEISS, the paper argues.

The fourth approach outlined by the Centre Think Tank would lead to an increase in the payments made to those who went on maternity leave before the pandemic, between 2016 and 2019. This is because under the SEISS those people are currently receiving less money than they would have received if they had not taken maternity leave, the paper states.

A think tank spokesman said: “Our plan, taking into account previous take up and average payments from the past schemes, would cost around £7.6 billion. It would include a maximum of 1,774,470 people in the schemes who were previously excluded or refused from furlough.”

Although the public purse is under great strain, this white paper provides Rishi Sunak with a potential road map out of this crisis. He would be wise to take it. In a compassionate society, nobody must be abandoned.

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