'All we want is parity': Freelancers excluded from Covid support fight to be included

Stage manager Jade Ayres is part of a group of people campaigning for financial support for freelancers who have been excluded from any help.

Stage manager Jade Ayres is part of a group of people campaigning for financial support for freelancers who have been excluded from any help. - Credit: Michael Bird MrBird.co.uk

Freelancers and self-employed people across Redbridge are pleading for government support, saying that they are falling through the cracks.

There are an estimated three million people across the country who are excluded from the government's Covid financial support because they are either new starters, in between jobs, earning less than 50 per cent of their income from self-employment or other personal circumstances make them ineligible.

Stage manager Jade Ayres and musician Mark Hayes, who have both worked at the Kenneth More Theatre (KMT) in various roles, are part of ExcludedUK, a grassroots organisation which is fighting to get support for freelancers.

Jade switched to being a full-time freelancer in August 2019 and, because she had earned less than 50 per cent of her income from that period of self-employment, she is not eligible for support.

Her mum, a teacher on a zero hours contract, is also excluded and because Jade lives with her neither are eligible for universal credit.

She told the Recorder: "Thanks to the amazing generosity of my grandmother, who has helped us both out, we would be in food banks and on the street right now.

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"The government says that they're catching everybody but that's just not the case. There are a lot of us out there."

Ilford's Kenneth More Theatre from EightyFour's Theatreland exhibition. Photo: Geoff Wilkinson

Freelancers who have worked for the Kenneth More Theatre have said they are falling through the cracks and are fighting for financial support. - Credit: Archant

Jade applied for retail jobs as soon as the pandemic hit and her freelance work dried up - but since there was such a demand for those roles she hasn't been able to find work.

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Mark Hayes, who switched careers 10 years ago to be a musician, has been on an ad-hoc contract with the Royal Artillery Band and isn't eligible for support.

He also can't apply for universal credit because of money that he has saved up.

He said: "For those of us who know the arts are notoriously fickle and have done the responsible thing and saved up money to smooth out any bumps in work over the years are now in the position of being penalised."

A Treasury spokesperson said: “Our Self Employment Income Support Scheme is one of the most generous in the world and has helped more than 2.7 million people so far claiming over £13.7 billion.

“Funding is designed to target those who need it most and protect the taxpayer against fraud and abuse. Those not eligible may still be able to access our loans schemes, tax deferrals, mortgage holidays and business support grants. 

“We’ve also given five million self-employed taxpayers an extra 12 months to pay their self-assessment tax due in January 2021.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak leaves 11 Downing Street, London, ahead of delivering his on

A spokesperson for HM Treasury defended their self-employment support scheme saying it's one of the most generous in the world. - Credit: PA

Aron Padley, founder of ExcludedUK, said after 10 months of being part of the campaign he has seen the devastation that has ripped through so many jobs, businesses and even lives of people who are falling through the cracks.

He added: "The part we find unfathomable is the fact that as a country we need these hard working tax payers to kick start the economy. It’s short sighted, it’s unfair and it’s painful for the three million that have been excluded. We continue to call upon the Chancellor to provide a workable solution which is both fair and just."

Wes Streeting MP, Ilford North.

Ilford North MP Wes Streeting said he has repeatedly raised this issue in Parliament but the Chancellor has so far refused to listen. - Credit: London Portrait Photographer - DAV

Ilford North MP Wes Streeting said Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the government promised to do "whatever it takes" to protect workers but too many have been needlessly excluded from economic support through no fault of their own.

He added:  "My colleagues in the Labour party and I have repeatedly raised this issue in Parliament, but the Chancellor has so far refused to listen. He has been too stubborn and inflexible to make the simple changes that would ensure everyone receives the support they need.”

Caroline Porter, of Chigwell, who is a face painter and balloon twister was excluded because she claimed employment support after having a stroke and since her benefits were more than her earnings for a period she doesn't qualify.

She was only able to claim a total of £199 in universal credit when her husband was furloughed for six weeks in April.

She said: "We are a two income family and I have been penalised for being ill."

She has two teenaged boys who were fortunate to find jobs which has helped out.

Jade said she is heartbroken to see so many people in the theatre like herself struggling and wondering what the future holds.

She added: "All we are are asking for is parity."

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