IN the tsunami of coronavirus bad news, the plight of the self-employed has not featured as a major story, but after days of delays the UK Government has finally announced its support package. Employees have been aware for a week of the job retention scheme and other plans to protect their jobs and incomes, however, 15% of the workforce who are self-employed have had to wait – and they will be still waiting until June to get any support from Westminster.

Until now, the only support that has been open to the self-employed is £94.25 a week in benefits and the option to defer taxes until until next year if they are unable to work.

With the Resolution Foundation estimating that 1.7 million self-employed people face a drop in earnings due to the pandemic, this has been unsustainable; especially after countries like Norway and Denmark announced generous schemes.

READ MORE: Prime Minister Boris Johnson tests positive for coronavirus

More than 5 million people are now self-employed in the UK, with the number surging from 3.3 million in 2001, according to the Office of National Statistics. With an average income of £240 per week, which is £160 less a week than the average worker in employment, most of the self-employed are a world away from the wealthy entrepreneurs and business owners like some people imagine. They also do without holiday pay, sick pay, paid maternity and paternity leave and auto-enrolment pension benefits that the employed are eligible for in their jobs.

The army of the self-employed perform the widest range of services which we depend on directly and indirectly, and for many, their income has totally dried up in the last weeks while their outgoing financial commitments continue. Imagine being a taxi driver without any passengers, or being the small shop-keeper or lone trader who has had to lock-up following the lockdown?

Imagine being the contractor of a freelancer who has been told their services are not required until the coronavirus risk passes? It doesn’t bear thinking about, especially for those who have put life and soul into building up their business, and many their life and pension savings as well.

It comes as a relief to many that Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has now confirmed that the self-employed, who have been adversely affected by the coronavirus, can get a taxable grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits over the last 3 years, worth up to £2500 per month. The plan is to be backdated to March and will be eligible for 95% of the self-employed. So far, so good, and with a monthly cost of £3 billion it is not to be sniffed at.

However, in the first sting in the tail, payments won’t be made until June. Although people can register for Universal Credit, there is a five week wait for payment, and will have to hope that an advance payment is speedy. This contrasts with the Austrian government scheme for the self-employed, sole-traders and small businesses, which opened for applications yesterday and is scheduled to make its first payments next week.

In a second sting in the tail, people who only began working for themselves during the last financial year will not be eligible at all. This is the unintended consequence of trying to avoid fraudulent claims, but goes to show the difficulty of putting a scheme in place that doesn’t penalise people who have started up on their own.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Where in Scotland is Covid-19 most prevalent?

In a third sting in the tail, those people who have been sensible and put a portion of their earnings aside to pay for tax and National Insurance will also be caught, with this being counted as “savings”. They will not be eligible for the bailout, and are expected to tap their nest-egg, putting at risk their ability to pay their tax bill when it comes.

In perhaps the biggest sting in the tail of all, the Chancellor has indicated that he will move to equalise NI payments for the self-employed and employed. The move, which had to be ditched because of its unfairness by ex-Chancellor Philip Hammond, now looks set to go ahead under the cover of coronavirus. Despite not receiving all of the benefits of the employed, the self-employed will have to pay the same.

Governments here and abroad have been sorely tested to react at the speed and scale to keep up with the impact of coronavirus. The financial scale of schemes for the employed – and now the self-employed – are huge. However, as time will show, there are literally tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people who will not fully or fairly benefit. It will be ironic if, at the end of the coronavirus crisis, it is the self-employed who will be unfairly singled out to carry the cost of the Government’s commitments.