Socialist Party
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27 March 2020

The self-employed need 100% of their income, and now!

Rob Williams, Socialist Party industrial organiser

Finally, the Tory government has relented to pressure by bringing in a support scheme for the self-employed affected by the coronavirus crisis.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has promised they will get a taxable cash payment worth 80% of their profits, with a 2,500 a month cap.

But there's a huge sting in the tail - they will have to wait until June! Many haven't even got enough money to last to the end of the week let alone three months.

What's more, Sunak is suggesting that after the crisis the self-employed will have to pay higher national insurance contributions.

As with the so-called protections for waged and salaried workers, the difference between promises made in Downing Street and what is received by workers is stark.

Only now has the government begun to set out how workers can claim the 80% of their wages promised. And it is not a straightforward process. It gives too much onus to the employer, who many workers won't trust.

Johnson and UKIP supporting Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin was intending to make his staff wait until the end of April for their money. But a militant campaign by the workers and their union the BFAWU has pushed him back.

All workers, whatever their status, should immediately receive 100% of their income if they are forced to self-isolate, work from home, are 'furloughed' or lose their normal income. Workers cannot afford a 20% pay cut.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed all the weaknesses and inequalities of capitalism. There are around five million self-employed in the UK.

But far from this being an entrepreneurs' paradise, it is more a reflection of decades of neoliberalism that has seen more and more workers pushed into precarious employment, including bogus self-employment.

This is particularly prevalent in construction, where workers and unions have fought for years against this process, including by taking militant, and often unofficial, action.

But it is spreading to other sectors as well. Eighteen months ago, a TUC survey revealed that self-employment is at a record level of 15% of the workforce.

But the self-employed earned on average 12,300 a year, compared with 21,600 for those in employment. This was also a fall from 13,200 in 2015/16.

Two million people in low-paid self-employment are part of the at least 3.7 million people in insecure jobs. The other 1.7 million include agency workers, casual workers, seasonal workers, and those whose main job is on a zero-hour contract.

All these workers must be brought into the trade union movement. Some unions are reporting an increase in recruitment during the pandemic as workers see unions as particularly relevant when their livelihoods and health are at stake.

If unions are at the forefront of fighting to protect workers in this crisis they can be an attractive force to many of the most exploited sections.