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UK prime minister doubles support for self-employed in lockdown

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·4-min read
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a protective mask, leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Britain October 21, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Britain's prime minister Boris Johnson, wearing a protective mask, leaves 10 Downing Street in London. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

The UK prime minister has announced income support will be doubled for the self-employed during England’s lockdown in November.

Boris Johnson used a speech to parliament on Monday on the new restrictions to confirm self-employed workers would now be able to claim grants worth 80% of their trading profits for another month, the same proportion as furloughed workers.

The scheme had previously been due only to continue at a less generous rate of 40% between November and January. The maximum grant available is now £5,160 ($6,670), up from £3,750. The rules mean many self-employed workers remain ineligible for any support, however.

Addressing MPs in parliament, Johnson also warned Britain faced a “medical and moral disaster” if it failed to impose tougher restrictions, with hospitals forced to turn away patients and staff forced to choose who to treat and save. He denied the government had been “slower” than other European countries in imposing restrictions.

But Johnson said the government was balancing the need for tougher curbs with the “long-term scars” of their impact on firms, jobs, physical and mental health. He said he was “truly sorry for the anguish” facing firms as new restrictions hit.

READ MORE: England goes into second lockdown for a month

It comes after Johnson finally bowed into pressure from scientists for tougher measures over the weekend to curb virus cases. England’s chief medical officer warned of a “significant rate of increase” across almost the entire country.

England will face a return to strict nationwide restrictions from this Thursday until at least 2 December. The prospect of an even longer lockdown dominated UK newspapers’ frontpages on Monday, after cabinet minister Michael Gove said it could be extended if rates have not fallen significantly.

The public have been told to stay at home once more, with ‘non-essential’ retail, leisure, personal care and hospitality firms facing enforced closure and social mixing outside household limited to two individuals. The government is also warning against non-essential travel. Estate agents and construction sites are among those told they can stay open.

Support measures have been extended, including the furlough wage subsidy scheme, grants for business premises forced to close, and mortgage payment holiday applications for struggling homeowners.

The UK government has faced a barrage of warnings about the economic impact of new restrictions however, as well as heavy criticism for not acting sooner to contain the virus and providing more economic support.

READ MORE: UK minister sweet talks business chiefs as Boris Johnson delays speech

New developments on Monday included:

  • Confederation of British Industry (CBI) chief Carolyn Fairbairn warned firms needed confirmation the furlough scheme would last as long as new restrictions are in place, with wage subsidies only extended by one month so far.

  • Pressure grew from Fairbairn, Labour leader Keir Starmer and campaign group Excluded UK for the government to extend support for self-employed workers not eligible for government schemes.

  • Pub owners, brewers and real ale campaigners slammed a ban on takeaway alcohol sales, saying they formed their only source of income during lockdown earlier this year.

  • Economists warned England’s lockdown could spark a double-dip recession, with different analysts predicting between 1.5% and 4% declines in GDP in the fourth quarter.

  • UK chancellor Rishi Sunak was accused by Starmer of exacerbating the hit to firms and jobs from lockdown by previously resisting calls for a two-week “circuit breaker” in September. Starmer argued the delay and soaring infection levels meant firms now had to close for longer.

  • Ryanair demanded testing regimes for passengers to allow greater travel, with chief executive Michael O’Leary accusing the government of “mismanagement” of the pandemic.

WATCH: Labour leader attacks chancellor Rishi Sunak over delays imposing lockdown