BECTU’s parent union Prospect has written to the government calling for more support for freelance workers, who it says are in a “particularly vulnerable situation” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Prospect’s general secretary Mike Clancy has written to chancellor Rishi Sunak following last week’s budget announcement.
The budget included some measures aiming to make it “quicker and easier” for self-employed workers to access benefits including Contributory Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit.
However, Prospect has said it is “deeply concerned” that the government’s action to protect freelances did not go far enough and “is not comparable to the scale of assistance being offered to employees or to businesses”.
In the letter, Clancy said: “Freelance workers are in a particularly vulnerable situation during this pandemic.
“Many of them work in ways that mean that even small disruptions to their working patterns can cause real financial hardship. In addition they may have just faced a tax bill that will have reduced their ability to manage a period without work.
“Asking these workers to rely on the welfare system, either through Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance, is simply inadequate.”
Clancy added: “The government’s plan for these people appears to be to push them on to Universal Credit for support, but this is a system designed to help people who are unemployed or in permanent low-paid work – not to cover skilled workers experiencing a temporary period without employment.”
The union urged the government to put in place a “more resilient safety net” for freelance workers, suggesting this could be in the form of a dedicated fund, loans or mortgage or rent holidays.
“The flexibility and agility that the freelance workforce offers is often lauded as a success story of the UK economy. However, this crisis is exposing the perils of having so much of the workforce without the protections offered by permanent employment,” the letter adds.
“In the future this will have to be reflected upon and addressed, but for now it is essential that something is done urgently to avoid placing millions in real hardship.”
The Treasury has been contacted for comment.