Articles - 22nd April 2020

More than a million self-employed workers have claimed universal credit

Words by The UP team

1.5m more self-employed workers file claims for universal credit, (Business Matters Magazine)

More than 1.5 million people have applied for universal credit since social distancing measures were introduced a month ago, underscoring the scale of the crisis in jobs and incomes.

The increase since March 16 has been six times as large as the normal average of 235,000 a month. There was a huge take-up in the ten days after that date, when claims rose to 950,000, almost ten times as many as there are normally in a two-week period.

Further evidence of the impact of the economic shutdown came as official figures showed cracks starting to appear in the labour market. Early estimates showed that the number of employees fell by 0.06 per cent in March to 29.1 million, a drop of 17,500, according to the Office for National Statistics.


Pressure mounts for rescue of self-employed dividend earners, (The Telegraph)

Pressure is growing for a rescue package to help two million small business owners who pay themselves mostly in dividends rather than salaries, as fears grow that thousands face financial ruin.

Small business minister Paul Scully this week reportedly said he is putting together a proposal to rescue the group -only to be slapped down by the Treasury, which is not keen to come up with yet another round of income support.

Swathes of entrepreneurs who rely on dividends to get by are among the hardest hit workers during the coronavirus recession. They are not covered by support schemes for either employees or the self-employed that are based on salary payments.

The Government is paying 80pc of furloughed employees’ wages, up to £2,500 per person. It is also covering 80pc of the earnings of self-employed people up to the same level during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, these schemes are worked out based on money earned through a salary rather than paid out as dividends from a business’s profits. Dividends are very widely used by company owners to legally control their tax payments. 


Self-employed mothers who took maternity leave will get less Covid-19 income support, (The Telegraph

More than half a million self-employed mothers could miss out on vital state support if they have taken maternity leave in the past three years.

The support received is calculated by taking the average of profits over the past three years. Mothers who took time out of work to look after their newborn babies are not allowed to discount their maternity leave, dramatically reducing their average earnings per year. 

The maximum amount a self-employed mother can claim while on maternity leave is £151.20 a week for up to 39 weeks in statutory maternity allowance. Those who have not paid enough class 2 National Insurance contributions will receive just £27 a week. You must have paid for at least 13 weeks in the 66 weeks before your baby is born to get the full amount.

One of the criteria is how long you have been self-employed. Only those who submitted a tax return for the tax year ending in 2019 are eligible for support. At least 151,000 self-employed people have missed this cut-off date, the ONS says – around 3pc of all self-employed – and the true figure is likely to be higher, as it does not include people who have become self-employed from January this year.


The green gig economy: precarious workers are on the frontline of climate change fight, (Yahoo Finance UK)

The modern “gig economy” sells independence to workers by allowing them to decide their own work hours. For taxi drivers or couriers, this may sound appealing, but in practice it can mean a precarious existence, trapped with a variable income and permanently on call in zero-hour contracts. Those with an uncertain immigration status can fall into forms of modern day slavery.

These projects range from direct payments to governments for forest and mangrove protection, to carbon markets, in which credits are sold to finance conservation work. A growing number of corporations pay to offset the local environmental damage they cause this way – enabling them to neglect action to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. There’s even a smartphone app that will “plant a tree” at the touch of a button.

The idea of trees being planted at the touch of a screen sounds revolutionary. But this work tends to draw on a flexible labour pool – a sort of “green gig economy”. While private sector donations are funnelled through charities and NGOs overseeing the tree planting, the work itself is offered on a temporary basis, often to unpaid volunteers – including school children – who are deployed to plant and care for the trees.


Coronavirus: gig economy workers put lives on the line to pay rent, (The Sunday Times)

The pandemic may have sucked the lifeforce out of much of the economy but gig work and other service jobs are booming. Instacart’s shoppers, along with Amazon warehouse pickers, Uber drivers and Deliveroo couriers, have been classified essential workers.

While millions shelter at home, these less-than-glamorous jobs are suddenly in great demand — and celebrated. Simply doing someone’s shopping or delivering a parcel have been transformed into heroic acts.

For the tech giants, this is a problem. Long-simmering questions about how they treat their workers are now front and centre, exposing a system that critics — such as Meredith Whittaker, founder of the AI Now Institute and an organiser of the Google walkout last year — argue is “calibrated to exploit workers”. She said: “Gig workers, warehouse workers, content moderators and others who are paid the least have been shown through this pandemic to be absolutely essential. And yet they are not receiving protections and benefits.” 

A key principle for the gig economy giants is that the armies of people they pay are not their responsibility. They are contractors, rather than employees entitled to holiday and other benefits.


Most artists have only two months cash to survive coronavirus crisis, (B Daily)

MORE than nine out of ten artists are worried about the impact of the coronavirus on their work and 56% only have cash reserves to last up to two months, according to a survey by one of the UK’s leading art rental consultancies, ARTIQ.

Last month, the Arts Council announced a £20m emergency funding package for creative practitioners and creative workers, with grants of up to £2,500, but Chief Executive Darren Henley admitted: “We will only be able to support a small proportion of the individuals we would like to help”.

Eighty-five per cent of the artists surveyed by ARTIQ make than less than £20,000 a year from their art and 65% are making less than £10,000 a year. With an average annual spend of £9,841 on studio rent, materials and other overheads, many are making tiny margins on their work even though nearly seven out of ten are working as full-time artists.

Many are experienced artists and, on average, have been working as artists for 14 years. Sixty-two per cent spend 5-10 hours a day on their art. More than one in five say they are ‘extremely worried’ about the impact of the coronavirus on their work, 47% are ‘worried’ and only 6% are not worried at all.


UK fashion designers join hands to make scrubs for key workers, (The Guardian)

Like many businesses, the fashion industry has ground to a halt during the coronavirus crisis. As some brands pivot towards making the face masks, gowns and scrubs much needed by healthcare workers, three London-based fashion designers have set up the Emergency Designer Network (EDN), seeking to “galvanise local level production” and supplement stocks, starting with scrubs.

The team is currently focusing solely on scrubs, since “they are the best match for the skills and equipment that we have access to,” says Phoebe English, who is known for her eco-conscious approach to design.

The designers put together a pattern that meant garments could be constructed quickly – no non-essential features, such as pockets – which was then signed off by the Royal Free Hospital in London, set to be one of the first hospitals to receive support from the Network. 

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