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24/03/20 00:01

Call for action to help self-employed

Demand for more support during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. 

Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes have written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak calling for the Jobs Retention Scheme he announced last week to be expanded to include the self-employed.

They also appealed for a change in the rules to enable more people to access statutory sick pay.

Full text of letter follows:

The Scottish Government has welcomed the significant steps you took on Friday with the announcement of a Job Retention Scheme and other measures to support jobs and incomes. It is clearly vital that the new scheme is up and running without delay, and I know officials in HMRC and other Departments will be working flat out to make that happen.

It is also clear that further action must be taken to support groups who, so far, have not been given sufficient support. There are two actions that are critical now:

First, action must be taken to provide more support for the self-employed. The removal of the Minimum Income Floor is welcome, but it does not go far enough. As the Resolution Foundation set out today, the goal should be a more comprehensive version of the Jobs Retention Scheme that encompasses the self-employed. The action taken in other countries suggest there are credible mechanisms that can support the self-employed. In Norway and Denmark, wage support schemes have been extended to cover the self-employed by covering their lost incomes based on earnings in previous years.

Greater support could also be offered by relaxing means-testing for Universal Credit to ensure that the self-employed, whether with savings or other household income, are not denied support. Of course, I recognise the complexities in delivering an effective approach - even if you cannot set out all the details now, it is vital that you signal your intention to act and I will work with you to develop any immediate measures.

There are 330,000 self-employed workers in Scotland, they are critical to the economy, and they must not be left behind in the response to this crisis.

In addition to support for the self-employed, we have been making the case that there must be more action on sick pay to ensure that people follow the essential health advice, and they know they will be supported in doing so. I urge you to change the rules so that more people can access Statutory Sick Pay and its value is increased so it provides a far more effective safety net.

I welcome the more regular Ministerial contact that is now happening to support our collective response across the economy and public finances. I understand there will be both a Finance Ministers’ and an Economy Ministers’ quadrilateral discussion this week, which we will join for our respective interests. Our officials will also be speaking tomorrow and it is important that additional support for the self-employed is on the agenda for that discussion.

We stand ready to work with you to develop an effective support package and I will continue to encourage employers to keep staff in their work and take the responsible steps that are critical for our public health and economy. I will also continue to encourage business to business prompt payment of invoices, recognising the temptation to improve company cash flow by delaying payment.

The Scottish Government will of course continue to ensure we pay our suppliers as early as we possibly can.

We appreciate the scale of support, pace and increasing scope of interventions to date. I know you are considering more strategic support to key companies or industries and this is an area of importance for Scotland also and I trust we can work constructively on this area.

I look forward to engaging further on these issues with you this week.

Fiona Hyslop
Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture

Kate Forbes
Cabinet Secretary for Finance