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Workers excluded from UK Covid safety net in choral ‘Les Mis’ plea

A choral cry for help based on a song from the musical Les Misérables is being aimed at the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, by workers who have slipped through the government’s coronavirus income protection net.

A hundred people, including self-employed driving instructors, fitness teachers and health workers, have recorded a version of One Day More in a plea for the government to bail out people whose incomes have evaporated since lockdown but have received little or no emergency help.

Members of ExcludedUK, a campaign group that believes 3 million people have fallen through the gaps, recorded the song from their homes amid rising anger and frustration among people whose circumstances mean they do not benefit from the employment furlough scheme, which winds down next month, or self-employment income protection.

Kate Cameron, a self-employed piano and singing teacher near Glasgow who helped arrange the YouTube song, has seen her earnings drop from £2,000 a month to zero and is unable to claim support because in the tax year 2018-19, just over half of her work was on PAYE terms, even though that stopped last September. A mortgage holiday is about to end and she is eating into savings earmarked for holidays and work on the former council house she shares with her husband.

“My savings are also my pension and they pay my tax,” she said, warning that as furlough and support schemes unwind, more people will join the ranks of the “excluded”. “It scares me. It’s not a club anyone wants to join.”

“There are people in the choir whose whole families have been affected and left with no support,” she added. “Some are selling their houses, some are in rent arrears for the first time and people are suffering mental issues they haven’t had before because of the feelings of worthlessness.”

The furlough scheme for employees, which currently pays 70% of wages up to a cap of £2,187.50, did not cover new starters, those in between jobs or due to start new jobs after 19 March. The newly self-employed who set up after 6 April 2019 were not covered by the self-employment income support scheme; neither is anyone receiving a pension while self-employed. Those who were earning less than 50% of their income from self-employment were also excluded.

The song’s lyrics, sung over images of Sunak addressing parliament, have been changed to include the lines: “We have worked since you were schoolboys, now we’re just sinking in the mud / Watch us turn to dust, silent as we fall / Poverty and food banks will hurt us all”.

Some members of the campaign group wanted angrier lyrics. A reference to suicide was removed, even though some people have been feeling that way, said Cameron.

Jacqueline Harthill, 60, from Bristol, a former council worker turned self-employed clinical hypno-psychotherapist, has seen her monthly income of £1,300 dip to £500. She was denied support because more than half of her income was through PAYE, and she cannot get universal credit because she is drawing a pension.

“I’m eating into my savings which will be gone by next summer if things don’t change,” she said. “It makes me really upset to think that after all these years working like I am supposed to I have been shafted. There are an awful lot of women affected among the self-employed and small businesses and a lot are older, many caught in the change in the pensionable age for women. This is not about special treatment. It is about parity.”

When approached for comment, HM Treasury said: “The swift and targeted action we’ve taken has protected millions of jobs and livelihoods across the country and our support package is one of the most comprehensive and generous in the world. The coronavirus job retention scheme and self-employment income support scheme continue to be just two elements of a comprehensive package of support for individuals and businesses.

“This package includes bounce back loans, tax deferrals, rental support, increased levels of universal credit, mortgage holidays, and other business support grants.”

Read the original article at The Guardian

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