Government urgently needs to announce support for the self-employed

Elliot Chappell
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“This is not a movie. You are not Will Smith in I Am Legend. Go home.” That’s the message from one Italian mayor. And this video is pure gold, showing a number of mayors in the country reacting to people breaking coronavirus lockdowns: a series of very clear, unambiguous messages. We’ve seen similar clear instructions from other European governments for people to stay indoors, contrasting starkly to the communication we’ve had from our own PM. On Friday, he both told people not to visit their mums on Sunday and said that he hoped to see his. Yesterday, he said that people should stay at home, but also stated that fresh air is good for you. And while New Zealand joined the list of countries in complete lockdown last night, Boris Johnson only urged people to follow the advice or face “tougher measures”. It’s possible that we could see a lockdown of our own soon then, but as ever it’s unclear.

As part of yesterday’s briefing, Johnson revealed that 1.5 million of the most at-risk people would be sent letters instructing them to remain at home for 12 weeks. The list of people receiving the letter includes cancer patients, organ transplant recipients and others with existing conditions. But Labour MP and A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan has called for the government to go further and implement a “strict lockdown”. The deputy leadership contender has also suggested that Downing Street could be “guilty of gross negligence”, following allegations that Dominic Cummings had been pushing for the ‘herd immunity’ strategy – an approach that experts concluded would have led to 250,000 deaths.

Meanwhile Rishi Sunak is under pressure today to provide protection for self-employed workers – if this crisis is really “on all of us”, some are asking why so many are left out of his emergency package. Last week, he announced that the self-employed would be able to access Universal Credit at the same rate as statutory sick pay. But this falls far short of the offer for employees with the government covering up to 80% of their wages, capped at £2,500 per month. It leaves five million workers in the UK to survive on £94.25 a week – a “major omission”, as Jeremy Corbyn pointed out. The Labour leader called on the government to up the support for these workers over the weekend, emphasising that many will face a dilemma between self-isolating and providing for their families. If the government wants self-employed workers to stay at home, it needs to support them to do so. It is vital that we see more from Sunak this afternoon, as well as overall clearer messaging from the government, if we expect people to follow public health advice. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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