“Mr Speaker, we know that many self-employed people are in real distress, but we are working urgently to address this problem and I say to the self-employed: we have not forgotten you. Help is coming, but the policy and delivery are complex, and we cannot and should not rush to announce a scheme that begs more questions than it answers. The Chancellor has held meetings this morning with representatives of the self-employed and will continue to meet them this this afternoon, but it is important to remember that Covid-19 is an urgent challenge to our entire economy, affecting workers of all types. It is essential that we respond swiftly, so that people can keep their jobs and businesses can carry on. This is the basis of our coherent, co-ordinated and comprehensive plan. It is a plan that gives those on the front line the tools they need to tackle the virus, with all the support the NHS needs, backed up by an initial £5 billion fund for public services.
It is a plan that puts a shoulder behind business with a statutory sick pay relief package for SMEs, business rates holidays for all retail, hospitality, leisure and nursery businesses in England, and grant funding for small enterprises, as well as support through HMRC’s time-to-pay scheme. As of yesterday, businesses with cash-flow concerns will also be able to access the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, offering up to £5 million for SMEs through accredited lenders. For larger firms, the Bank of England is providing a new facility to help support liquidity among larger firms. I urge all Members of the House to speak to business leaders in their constituency and make sure that they are aware that they are not alone, and that help is coming.
In this House, we are standing behind all businesses, and everyone who works in them. To encourage businesses to retain staff, we are deferring VAT and my right honourable friend has announced the coronavirus job retention scheme. Taken together, this is a huge programme of support, and will keep thousands of workers in their jobs.
However, we know that there are thousands of self-employed people who have been wondering what the future holds for them. My right honourable friend the Chancellor has already set out a range of measures in support. Sole traders and freelancers will be able to access the business interruption loan scheme, as long as activity is channelled through a business account. We are also removing the minimum income floor for self-employed workers affected by coronavirus, so that they too can access universal credit in full. At the same time, the next self-assessment income tax payments will be deferred until January 2021, which means that those assiduously putting money aside for the end of this month now have more freedom to prioritise and plan for next year.
Let me reassure everyone in this House and the self-employed people they represent that further help is coming. However, we have to make sure we get this right and target the right support towards those most in need. The Chancellor will provide a further update on support for the self-employed in the coming days.”