News: Government announces new coronavirus support
This page has been updated on 2 November 2020
On 31 October, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new public health restrictions for England including the closure of non-essential shops and hospitality for a month, although educational institutions will stay open. These restrictions will come in to effect on Thursday 5 November. These measures follow the introduction of Scotland's new five-level system of restrictions, alongside the continuation of the two-week 'firebreak' in Wales and the four-week 'circuit breaker' in Northern Ireland.
As part of the government’s efforts to increase support for the workforce, the Prime Minister informed the House of Commons today (2 November) of changes to both the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. Whilst we welcome these measures after tirelessly lobbying the government, they are not sufficient to ensure the survival of our industry, and falls short from the government’s commitment to deliver parity between employed and the self-employed.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
Shortly before its implementation, the Job Support Scheme (JSS) has been postponed and is now due to commence on 1 December - one day before the end of the new lockdown period for England. Instead, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has been extended for the calendar month of November.
The CJRS (popularly called 'the furlough scheme') enables employers to once again claim the full 80% of their workers’ furlough pay, capped at £2,500. This is a reversal of the reductions to 70% and then 60% over the last two months. National Insurance and pension contributions cannot be claimed.
In addition, the criteria has also been expanded so staff on payroll and included in a Real Time Information (RTI) submission on or before 30 October are now eligible, even if they had not previously been furloughed.
The provision for flexible furlough has been continued for this extension, which allows employees to come back on a part-time basis, and we expect the government to publish more details about the entire scheme shortly.
Whilst we support an extension of the furlough scheme, we remain highly aware that many of our members who are atypical workers on PAYE contracts and eligible for the scheme have not been furloughed. With their employers not paying their wages and not providing any work, many of our members will continue to have no source of income and face serious financial hardship. We will continue to raise this issue as part of our ongoing communications with government.
Self-Employment Income Support Scheme
The government has also increased the level of funding for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) from 40% to 80% of average trading profits for the month of November.
The SEISS is calculated over 3 months so this increases the total grant from 40% to 55% of trading profits for November to January and the maximum grant increases to £5,160.
The claims window for the SEISS grants will now be opening at the end of November rather than the middle of December as originally planned.
We welcome the government's decision to provide additional support for the self-employed. However we remain concerned that, without the widening of the eligibility criteria, three million people are still excluded and face severe, irreparable hardship. We will continue to lobby government to highlight those who have fallen through the gaps such as the newly self-employed, those whose income falls below the 50 per cent threshold and limited company directors.
Responding to the latest SEISS announcement, the Incorporated Society of Musicians’ Chief Executive, Deborah Annetts, said:
‘We are pleased that the government is supporting the self-employed with 80% of trading profits for November, which increases the total grant to 55% of trading profits across the November to January period. Today’s announcement, coming so soon after previous changes to the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS), follows the ISM’s tireless campaigning on this issue. This is a further acknowledgement from the government that its initial approach was insufficient and that more had to be done to support the self-employed, including the thousands of musicians who cannot work while performance venues remain closed.
‘However, the increased rate of SEISS is only for the first month of the three-month grant period and three million self-employed workers continue to be excluded from receiving it at all. So maintaining a higher level of grant, expanding the eligibility criteria and developing a clear roadmap for the return of live performance are all now essential for preventing an exodus of highly skilled talent from our world-leading arts sector.'