U.K. Government Unveils Financial Support Package for Self-Employed Workers Amid Virus Crisis



The scheme includes a taxable grant of up to $3,000 per month, but won't come into effect until June.

The U.K. government has unveiled a financial support package for the self-employed and freelancers impacted by the ongoing coronavirus crisis, answering — partially — a call from all corners of the hard-hit creative sector. 

According to the new scheme, the self-employed can now receive a taxable grant based on their previous earnings over the last three years, worth up to 80 percent of their earnings and capped at 2,500 pounds ($3,000) per month. It will run for a minimum of three months and is open to anyone with trading profits of 50,000 pounds ($61,000) or under. However, the first payments won't be made until June, although they will be backdated to March. Also, it is only open to those with a tax return from 2019, leaving out anyone who has been self-employed for a year or less. 

The new measures were announced Thursday by chancellor Rishi Sunak as part of the government's daily coronavirus press briefings. Sunak said that 95 percent of the U.K.'s self-employed workers would be covered by the support package.

The announcement comes less than a week after the British government introduced a scheme to pay 80 percent of wages for employees not working due to the coronavirus, up to 2,500 pounds ($3,000) a month, aimed at preventing companies from laying off their workforce. 

It also comes after many leading creative sector companies, trade bodies and unions called on authorities to offer a similar package for freelancers and the self-employed, who make up a vast bulk of the industry and have seen work — and income — dry up as productions shut down across the country. Previously, such workers were urged to apply for unemployment benefit. 

In separate open letters to the government, directors association Directors U.K. and public service broadcasters — including the BBC and ITV — urged it to offer income protection to freelancers, while actors union Equity launched a petition signed by more than 14,000, including names such as Alan Cumming and Richard E. Grant. 

"The very nature of the freelance community is that they do not have a single anchor employer; they work for the industry as a whole across TV and film, which makes them particularly vulnerable in current circumstances and therefore worthy of government support," wrote the broadcasters, pointing out that freelancers made up 50 percent of those engaged in screen production in an industry now worth more than 100 billion pounds ($117 billion) to the economy.

Last week, a new survey of some 5,600 people by the creative industry union Bectu found almost half of the freelance respondents had already lost money as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.