Coronavirus: Oldham MP urges Chancellor to 'fill in the gaps'
Date published: 24 March 2020
Oldham East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams
Oldham East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, asking him to ‘fill in the gaps’ for providing financial support for businesses, freelancers, and vulnerable people, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mrs Abrahams, who also wrote to the work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, in a letter counter-signed by 33 other MPs, said: “The Chancellor has rightly said he will ‘do whatever it takes’, so I have asked him to fill in the gaps in support that still exist in the financial measures for businesses, particularly micro and small businesses; and to address the lack of support for the self-employed, freelancers and other workers in insecure work.
“We must also ensure protections for people on social security, including people in low paid work, the sick and disabled people.”
In terms of financial support for businesses, Mrs Abrahams said: “Several local businesses, in Oldham and Saddleworth, have contacted me about the measures announced in the Budget and they are, rightly, wary of racking up further debts.
“These business loans are interest free. However, I would like the Government to convert these loans to grants as any additional debt on business now should be avoided.
“The Business Rate holidays should be extended to all industrial sectors identified as vulnerable, for example, the creative industries.
“Small businesses, especially micros and sole traders are particularly vulnerable, as demand for their products and services significantly reduces or stops altogether, their incomes dries up, and they don’t have the reserves that larger businesses may have.”
On financial support to self-employed and freelance workers, Mrs Abrahams said: “I am already being contacted by constituents who are self-employed, freelance, or are in insecure work and have either already been laid off or have had contracts dry up meaning many don’t have savings and have no money coming in.
“The Government is effectively underwriting businesses’ staffing costs.
"But this does not benefit all workers.
“The social security measures announced for those workers not covered by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme need to be reviewed urgently.
“Given the current fragile state of the social security system it is impossible for it to deliver timely funding to tens of thousands, potentially millions of additional applicants over the next 12 weeks.
“So the Government must announce measures for the self-employed, freelancers and any other status of worker not covered by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which is equivalent to those being offered to employees.
“For those people currently in-work, but whom become unwell or may need to self-isolate, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) needs to enable them to stay at home without risking ratcheting up their personal debt.
"The current level of £94.25 per week means many people who should stay at home, may not because they can’t afford to.
“In order to control the spread of the virus, SSP must immediately increase to at least 80% of income underwritten by the Government.
“As such a range of other measures may also need to be considered such as rental payment ‘holidays’ for both private rented sector and social tenants underwritten by the Government.
“Also, there should be utility payment ‘holidays’ compensated by the Government; and council tax ‘holidays’ underwritten by the Government.”
Talking about support for people currently on social security, Mrs Abrahams added: “The current levels of social security support for millions of people, particularly those of working age, is inadequate.
“People on social security were already suffering before the Coronavirus pandemic.
"But I have not seen this recognised by the Government either in terms of the defined ‘at risk’ groups or the measures the Government has announced to reduce their infection risk.
“The Government should agree to proposals put forward by the Child Poverty Action Group, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Children’s Society and other charities to help protect them.
“The list of proposals is long but include making Universal Credit loans non-repayable and stopping migration from legacy benefits to Universal Credit; suspending all sanctions and deductions and ensure automatic, immediate, access to a hardship payment.
“We are at war against this virus, and our response needs to reflect this.”
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