Here in Oxford we have many businesses which until recently were thriving. These include a wide range of innovative small and independent businesses. It is crucial that we protect the jobs in these businesses, and help those who are without work or otherwise affected by the coronavirus.
Over the past weeks, the Government has announced a range of measures to support individuals and businesses. I consistently pushed for a European-style ‘salary support’ scheme, and was relieved when the ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’ was announced.
This Scheme covers up to 80% of the wages of workers – up to £2,500 per month – for at least three months. As long as an employee was on the PAYE payroll before 28th February, they will be eligible for the scheme – even if they are on a zero hours contract or a temporary contract.
The scheme is not perfect but I would really encourage local employers to sign up and register their employees as so-called ‘furloughed’ workers with HMRC. That way they can keep people on the payroll, protect jobs and be as ready as possible to resume normal activity once the current crisis reduces.
The UK has a particularly large number of self-employed people, so we really need special help for them. The ‘Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS)’ will allow the self-employed to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of their trading profits, up to a maximum of £2,500, for the next three months. Now the SEISS scheme is only available to those people who have submitted a self-assessment tax return for the year 2018-9, meaning some newly self-employed people may miss out; and is only available to those people who make most of their income from their self-employment. I have been pushing for additional measures to support self-employed people who miss out from the scheme.
The government has also announced a range of different grants, loans, tax holidays and tax deferments, for both small and large businesses. The Oxford City Council website and the Government website include more details on these.
Nonetheless, I am finding that many of my constituents fall through the gaps of these different schemes and forms of support. Inevitably, many are having to turn to social security, and finding that it is very difficult to access (for example) Universal Credit, because of the very long waiting time for applications to be assessed. I am pushing for retired Jobcentre and tax workers to be pulled back in to support both people and businesses with their applications for support, because the system is clearly struggling to meet demand.
There is also a critical issue for us here in Oxford, which concerns the large number of local residents who are not UK citizens. While they may have been undertaking really important work in local businesses before the crisis hit, they are not entitled to many different forms of support. For that reason, I have suggested that the so-called No Recourse to Public Funds rule should be lifted during the crisis, so everyone in our city can access the financial support they need.
If there is anyone reading this column who is having problems with accessing the different sources of support, who lives in Oxford East, please do contact me and I’ll do all I can to help. In that connection, I must thank my staff who have been working extremely hard to help the very large numbers of people who have contacted us needing assistance.