Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Afzal Shah, Labour Councillor for Easton ward and Cabinet Member for Climate, Ecology, and Sustainable Growth.
Here in Bristol, we are proud of our city’s reputation as a hub for entrepreneurial excellence. According to the ONS, Bristol is consistently rated as one of the UK’s most productive cities, and a great place for start-ups, SMEs, creatives, and freelancers of all descriptions. We recognise the resilience of the city’s small and micro-business community, and appreciate the unprecedented challenges resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the Government has seriously neglected this sector. Out of Bristol’s 30,000 plus self-employed, over 6,000 people in Bristol are still without any financial support to see them through the pandemic. This number is much higher when all forms of ‘the excluded’ are counted.
Despite the furlough and Self-employment Income Support Schemes, around three million people nationally have fallen through the gaps of these schemes due to technicalities, and have been left with little, or no, financial support from the Government. There’s catches to the financial support schemes that mean a large number of people such as freelancers, the recently self-employed, directors of limited companies, and so many more, have been hung out to dry.
A quote commonly-attributed to Napoleon is that Britain ‘is a nation of shopkeepers’, which I interpret to mean that Britain is a nation of small businesses. Limited companies are often small businesses or one-man-bands, and the self-employed are the smallest business possible. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and have been for centuries, yet they are being let down by this Government.
The Government’s furlough and self-employment income support schemes have been lifelines for so many people who have seen their incomes decimated by the pandemic, but, it is unacceptable that almost a year and three lockdowns on, the gaps in the scheme haven’t been plugged. This has taken its toll on the excluded, both financially and emotionally.
There was a lost opportunity to review, and correct, the criteria during Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s autumn spending review. The Chancellor proudly proclaimed that “nobody will be left behind”. Why then, has he failed to implement any support package for those who have fallen through the gaps of the support schemes?
These three million people are represented by an organisation, ExcludedUK, that provides support for the excluded and lobbies the Government on their behalf. I proposed a motion at today’s Full Council to lend our support to the organisation, and to call ‘on the government to address the disparities in support, to ensure that all individuals and businesses currently excluded, entirely or largely, from Covid-19 grants are given the support they need and rightfully deserve’ – one of ExcludedUK’s principle aims.
I know how necessary this is, as I have heard the heart-breaking stories of a number of local residents, including those working on short-term PAYE contracts, limited company directors, and people working in both employment & self-employment, who have all been excluded from financial support. One of my residents has even had to pawn personal possessions and survive off loans.
This isn’t acceptable. If the Government can find the money to give people half-price Nandos, then I’m sure that it can find the relatively-small amount to support those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.