Labour has pledged to work with the Government to see whether payments for self-employed workers can be made more quickly after the Chancellor announced that new coronavirus support measures would only be claimable from June.
Rishi Sunak has pledged to give millions of self-employed people a grant worth up to £2,500 a month, but shadow chancellor John McDonnell said that while he was relieved the policy has been brought forward, there are “quite a few gaps”.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I’m really relieved that it has been brought forwards and I’m pleased. There’s quite a few gaps … lots of self-employed people who have fallen outside the scheme for different reasons have contacted me overnight.
“But we’ll work with the Government and try and get those gaps filled.
“The big issue that has come from most of them is having to wait until June for payments. Some are saying, ‘Look, we can’t survive beyond the next few weeks’, so we’ll work with the Government to see whether or not payments can be made more quickly.
“There was about 40,000 staff laid off from HMRC. Maybe one of the things the Government could do is the same as the health service, invite many of those staff back to help us get the payments out the door to these self-employed workers.”
Mr McDonnell urged the Government to increase statutory sick pay to cover people who are self-isolating or off sick.
He said: “The Chancellor is advising people to take out Universal Credit loans and grants, well as I say, it’s very difficult getting through the telephone system, let alone the internet with regards to that.
“But again, even if they had to fall back on sick pay, if that was at a high enough level actually then they can survive in terms of day-to-day expenditure.”
National chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses Mike Cherry said the organisation “very much welcomes the scheme”.
However, on those who have been operating their own business for under a year not being able to apply for the new funding, he said: “I think the Chancellor yesterday said that the amount that some could get under Universal Credit was over £1,500 but others are saying it is just statutory sick pay and that is going to be a problem for many, many small businesses who just started up.”
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the Government is offering “the right response” for self-employed workers.
Mr Sharma told BBC Breakfast: “The Chancellor was very clear that we want to do this as quickly as possible, we’ve set a date of June, if we can do it faster we will, but it is a complicated system that we are designing and we want to make sure we get it absolutely right.”
Responding to Mr McDonnell’s calls for former HMRC staff to return, he added: “I don’t think the block right now is the number of people within HMRC, the issue here is building the system and that is what we’re doing.”
Outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the BBC on Thursday that the Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic showed he was “absolutely right” about public spending in the 2019 general election.
He said he had been “denounced as somebody that wanted to spend more money than we could possibly afford” but that now the Conservatives realised the need to invest in the state.
“They’ve now suddenly realised that they have to spend money to invest in the state, as we have always said as a party, and they have come around to a lot of that position,” Mr Corbyn said.