Coronavirus: Rishi Sunak to unveil financial aid for self-employed

Self-employed workers facing financial difficulties as a result of coronavirus are set to be offered a package of support from the government.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak will unveil the measures later.

He set out plans for 80% wage subsidies for staff kept on by employers last week – and the PM has said he wants similar protection for freelancers.

However, Boris Johnson added he could not promise the UK would beat the virus “without any kind of hardship at all”.

Mr Sunak said last week that the government would cover wages of up to £2,500 a month for staff being kept on by their employer, in “unprecedented” measures to prevent workers being laid off due to the virus crisis.

The chancellor later said drawing up plans to help self-employed people had proved to be “incredibly complicated”.

BBC business editor Simon Jack said calculating a support wage for the self-employed was difficult because their income could be lumpy, irregular and intermittent.

Of the five million workers defined as self-employed at any one time in the UK, roughly one million were self-employed last year but are not now – so targeting support can also be tricky.

Government sources said they had struggled to find a way to avoid paying people who do not need help.

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As Parliament shut down until 21 April at the earliest due to the escalating pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs: “We will do whatever we can to support the self-employed, just as we are putting our arms around every single employed person in this country.”

He said there were “particular difficulties” for freelancers who are not on Pay As You Earn (PAYE) schemes, but that he wanted to achieve “parity of support” across the workforce.

The total number of people in the UK to die with Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has reached 465.

A 21-year-old woman from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, who died with the virus last week, had no underlying health conditions, her family said.

More than 9,500 people have tested positive for the virus in the UK – although the actual number of cases is likely to be far higher.

One of the latest people to be diagnosed is Prince Charles. The 71-year-old heir to the throne is self-isolating at Balmoral with the Duchess of Cornwall, 72, who tested negative.

Meanwhile the British Medical Association (BMA) warned doctors and patients would die without adequate protective equipment across the NHS.

The BMA said doctors were risking their lives due to a lack of stock of personal protective equipment (PPE) – and said many health workers could go off sick unless urgent action is taken.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said millions of PPE items have been sent out and a hotline has been set up so staff can report shortages.

Face-to-face supervision of thousands of criminals across England and Wales is being scaled back for at least three weeks to reduce the spread of the virus.

Lower-risk offenders will receive phone or video calls from supervisors while about 16,000 higher-risk criminals – including sex offenders – will be asked to come to the window of their home so that probation staff outside the building can see them.

Only a handful of offenders, including those convicted of terror offences, will continue to have face-to-face supervision.

It comes after the government said it was considering releasing some offenders from prisons to ease pressures caused by the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Banks have been criticised for insisting on personal guarantees to issue government-backed emergency loans to business owners
  • A decision about whether or not this year’s Wimbledon would go ahead as planned will be made next week
  • Anxiety UK is extending its helpline opening hours after it estimated the number of calls to its helpline have risen by between 30 and 35% over the last fortnight. To reduce coronavirus-related anxiety the charity recommends people to talk about their concerns, limit the time they spend following the latest developments, and find time to do things that distract them
  • Ministers have said free car parking will be provided to NHS staff working in hospitals in England
  • Dyson has had hundreds of engineers working around the clock to make 10,000 ventilators, after the government placed an order
  • In the US, the Senate has passed a $2tn (£1.7tn) coronavirus disaster aid bill that is the largest economic stimulus in US history
  • There are now more than 470,000 recorded infections worldwide. The number of global deaths is more than 21,270 while more than 114,000 people have recovered

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