FOR anyone who is old enough to remember growing up in the Thatcher years, it might have seemed odd for the Conservative Government to have dragged their heels on responding with a financial package for the self-employed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak surprised many when he announced his eye-watering £330 billion of support for workers last week. He has now followed this up with what he has described himself as “the most significant economic intervention in the history of the British state,” with a similar taxable grant scheme to that offered to employees, worth 80% of self-employed earnings based on their profits for the last three years up to a ceiling of £2500.

From the party traditionally associated with business and enterprise (despite Johnson’s past disparaging comments), it is right and proper that they support the innovators and risk-takers in our workforce. After all, Tory party heroine, Margaret Thatcher, described her dream of Britain as “a nation of shopkeepers”. Her right-hand man, Norman Tebbit, told citizens to “get on (their) bikes” and a generation of workers jumped into self-employment and business start-ups.

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Many of them failed and were left to their own devices, abandoned by the doctrine of Thatcher individualism and her insinuation that they just hadn’t worked hard enough. Now, in the corona crisis, self-employed workers are suffering from catastrophic losses almost overnight as a result of necessary life-saving health restrictions and social distancing. A week has felt like an eternity while they wait for this Government’s next move.

More than 20 years on from the end of her controversial reign, Mrs Thatcher would no doubt be impressed to see that entrepreneurs bring in more than £300bn to the UK economy every year. But what would she make of Sunak’s unprecedented intervention in this time of crisis, a woman who was determined to “roll back the frontiers of the state in Britain”? I doubt she would approve.

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Since the Chancellor announced his financial plans for employees and businesses last week, he’s been under growing pressure to emulate other European countries such as Ireland, where they have introduced a new “pandemic unemployment payment” now at €350 per week, available for all employed or self-employed workers. In Norway, the government has ensured that the self-employed are also entitled to 80% of their average pay over the last three years.

The UK Government have had to shift into unchartered waters in their tailored response to catastrophic job and income losses; after their initial disastrous “herd immunity” strategy, they’ve obviously decided that it’s better to emulate the successful responses to the Covid-19 crisis that we’ve seen across Europe than take a different route.

However, these new proposals do not go far enough, nor do they match the Prime Minister’s pledge at PMQs to deliver parity with the package available for employees. Although Sunak’s intervention will be welcomed by many, the small print says they will have to wait at least until June to see this help materialise. There is also the question of new self-employed businesses that have been set up only recently; without a tax return for 2019, they’re left without access to the lifeboats.

The UK Government could have taken a different route. The SNP, among other opposition parties, have been calling for a Universal Basic Income as the answer to those needing immediate cash and to give workers financial security for the duration of the pandemic. Many in the Tory party, such as grandees like Iain Duncan Smith, have an almost primal aversion to this policy, describing any kind of UBI as “a disincentive to work” while continuing to push his disastrous Universal credit scheme, with a five week wait for payment.

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With 330,000 self-employed people at risk in Scotland, the SNP have repeatedly pushed the Government to raise the Statutory Sick Pay in line with the EU national average and to expand the arrangement for all self-employed, as well as including them in the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme. Many are facing utter ruin by the abrupt end to their incomes, and Sunak’s package of measures will not reach them in time.

At some point, this horrific pandemic will be over and the job of rebuilding our economy and personal livelihoods will begin in earnest. By that time, we will have learnt much about the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of vital support, both personal and national in a time of danger and tragic loss. One thing is already clear; Tory governance, from the Thatcher “no society” years, through David Cameron’s austerity and drastic welfare cuts programme, Theresa May’s “hostile environment” and Johnson’s “get Brexit done”, has failed to address the important needs of the British people.

It’s taken this dramatic turn of events in the shape of a global pandemic to open their eyes to the fragility of many peoples’ lives and the failures of their policies. It’s taken a threat to life and the economy to shift them out of their traditional comfort zone and let the state take back control.

The old structures are broken. Let’s hope the electorate never fall for outdated and inadequate Conservative doctrine again.