The UK government on Thursday unveiled what finance minister Rishi Sunak described as “one of the most generous” support programs anywhere in the world for Britain’s 5 million self-employed workers.
In many cases they face an impossible choice: break lockdown rules, or stay home and earn nothing. Before Thursday’s announcement, self-employed workers in the United Kingdom were only getting tax relief and £94 ($114) a week through the benefits system.
Josie Ferguson, a 24-year old assistant buyer in London’s film and television industry, said she is losing £700 ($850) a week because a production she was working on has been postponed.
“It’s a complete shutdown. People won’t get paid and we get no help because we are contracted workers,” she told CNN Business. Ferguson considers herself lucky because she can live with her parents and has savings, but she said her friends in London will struggle to pay rent.
“The 1.3 million Americans who drive and deliver with Uber are facing extraordinary economic challenges,” he said in a statement. “Those who’ve lost the opportunity to earn need and deserve this support.”
What’s happening in Europe?
Governments across Europe have already announced measures to help their self-employed workers, although they vary widely in scope and generosity.
In Germany, the region’s largest economy, companies with up to five employees qualify for a one-off grant of €9,000 ($9,900), while those with 10 employees will receive €15,000 ($16,500). The government has made an additional €3 billion ($3.3 billion) available to enhance social security benefits for the self-employed.
In France, small businesses and freelancers who make less than €60,000 ($66,000) a year can apply for €1,500 ($1,650) in aid if they are forced to close or if their revenue falls by more than 70% this month compared with March 2019.
Other support measures include reduced tax and social security payments, as well as a payment holiday on rent and utilities.
Italy’s 5 million self-employed workers, about 23% of the workforce, are receiving less support. The government’s pledge to subsidize 80% of employee salaries for nine weeks does not apply to them. Instead, they will receive a one-off payment of €600 ($660) and tax relief.
— Eoin McSweeney, Pierre Buet, Hada Messia, Stephanie Halasz and Anneken Tappe contributed to this report.