Apparently, Rishi Sunak is happy to turn his back on 3.8 million workers and their families.
ExcludedUK campaigners held a zoom event on Wednesday to send a clear message to Chancellor Rishi Sunak that the nearly 3.8 million British workers (according to a recent report by the Standard Life Foundation) who have been completely abandoned, during the pandemic, can no longer be ignored. Sunak is expected to reveal the UK budget for 2021 on Wednesday this week and campaigners are hoping there might be some respite for the millions of workers and their families who have slipped through the net over the last year. Reportedly, dozens of excluded workers have already committed suicide as a result.
During Wednesday’s event, we heard the awful stories of 4 members of ExcludedUK who had slipped through the big gaping holes in the government support net. Eleanor explained that she was told she did not qualify for the self-employment grant because she’d only recently switched to full-time self-employment in Oct 2018. Despite falling pregnant in June 2020, Eleanor was effectively left to fend for herself and was eventually forced to sell her home and live off the little bit of equity she’d received from that. Eleanor described how her mental health and anxiety has been through the roof throughout her pregnancy and fear’s the impact this may have had on the baby.
Another victim of Sunak’s indifference was 17yr old Matthew. Matthew had set up a business and recently registered it as a Ltd company. Unfortunately, because the registration process wasn’t completed until after 19th March 2020, he and the staff he employed were deemed ineligible for the furlough scheme and Matthew was also unable to apply for the self-employment grant or for Universal Credit. Despite all this, at just 17, Matthew was forced to take out a £45k Bounce Back loan to support his staff and is currently working 95hr weeks trying to get by.
Gaynor told us how in 2018 she took the decision to switch to self-employment after 20yrs employed in another career. This meant she hadn’t been self-employed long enough to qualify for the grant, she was also refused Universal Credit and even the Bounce Back Loan. Last September, Gaynor was forced to sell her home of 25yrs and is currently living off the equity.
Alison, who is now 62 and has been paying in taxes for over 40yrs, took the decision to go into full-time self-employment in February 2019. Prior to that she had a part time teaching job and also did some self-employed work. Unfortunately, her income during the 2018-2019 tax year showed that she had earned £10 more through employment than she had through self- employment, which meant she didn’t meet the govt’s criteria of 50% to qualify for the Self-employment grant.
ExludedUK is a volunteer run, grass roots, not for profit organisation and they’ve been fighting on behalf of all the people and businesses who have been unable to get government support during the pandemic. Speaking to Monday’s Zoom audience, Andy Burnham (Mayor of Greater Manchester), explained that this accounted for approx. 1 in every 10 people in the workforce. Sonali Joshi (one of ExcludedUK’s founders) explained that, according to the national audit office and the Standard Life Foundation, there are currently between 3 to 3.8 million UK tax payers who have been told they are not eligible for furlough or the self-employment grant and that this includes people who are shielding, the very young, older workers, pregnant women, new parents and a disproportionate number of women. Sonali goes on to explain that many of these workers lost between 50 to 100% of their income during the pandemic but over half of them are also considered ineligible for benefits.
A press release from ExcludedUK revealed they had recently conducted a survey of their membership (11-23 February 2021 with 5,516 participants). Amongst other things, the survey revealed that 75% of respondents had been forced to live off personal savings since March 2020, 58% were already in deep debt as a direct result and 53% were currently relying on their partner/family or friends for financial support. It also revealed that 51% of respondents were unable to claim benefits and 33% had been forced to sell personal belongings. 25% of participants said they’d reduced the number of hours they would normally heat their homes and 17% said they had been skipping meals.
Martin Lewis, Founder of Money Saving Expert UK and The Money and Mental Health Institute, criticised the Chancellor for focusing entirely on protecting the economy rather than workers. He described how many people, who were once self-sufficient, had now run up horrendous debts as a result of this decision, debts that he believes will take them many years to recover from. The Mayor of Liverpool, Steven Rotherham, added that this was a mess of the government’s own making but they still simply refusing to acknowledge their mistake.
A surprising voice lending his support to the ExcludedUK campaign was billionaire philanthropist, Eurosceptic and Tory Party Donor, John Caudwell. Caudwell described how he felt when he learned from his staff that someone who was on the verge of committing suicide only stopped after they’d learned that people, like him, were campaigning and fighting for them. As a major Tory party donor, Caudwell explained that he was able to talk to government ministers and discuss the progress they were making in tackling the pandemic but was shocked to learn that the govt had initially only set aside £13 billion to see us through the pandemic. His estimation, at the time, was that it would be closer to £300 billion and he now admits, in hind sight, even that was an underestimation.
Arguably the most shocking thing we learned on Wednesday was that Rishi Sunak seemed contently resigned to the idea of leaving millions of people without any financial support whatsoever and happy to allow them to sink even further into debt – a debt that some will spend decades paying back and others might never recover from. Caudwell told the meeting that Sunak seemed content with the idea of sacrificing 5% of the working population, which he saw as an “utterly unforgiveable… horror story”.
Another speaker at the event was Gina Miller. Miller was clearly moved and angry at what she’d heard and said that it was an “utter disgrace” and a “stain” on the government that people should be so cruelly abandoned. She added that she could see no logic in the government’s decision to turn its back on millions of workers – the very people they will subsequently need to rely on to get us out of the economic dip. She added that she had people telling her they were feeling suicidal and parents telling her that their children were eating porridge for every meal and that they’d been forced to sell off personal belongings, including wedding rings, just to scrape by.
Andy Burnham questioned the government’s commitment to ‘levelling up’. He added that it was difficult to see how the government proposed to level up a decimated work force. Dan Javis (Mayor of Sheffield) also added that he couldn’t see a path to recovery unless the government were prepared to invest in areas of deprivation. Steve Rotherham called it “a great injustice being perpetrated on a national scale”. Andy then concluded the meeting with a simple message to Rishi Sunak to “do the right thing!”. He added that the government needs to stop looking at financial support as some kind of “hand-out” and start supporting “fellow tax-payers”.
Spotlight is 100% independent. Our content is free for all to read and share and we also prefer to stay advert free. If you appreciate this content then please consider supporting Spotlight by subscribing or making a one off donation. You can take out a monthly subscription for as little as £1 a month or you can make a one-off donation if you prefer.