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McDonnell urges Tory Chancellor to throw lifeline for self-employed

JOHN McDONNELL urged Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak to throw self-employed workers a lifeline today or at least clarify when state support will be offered during the coronavirus crisis.

The shadow chancellor said the majority of MPs have been contacted by self-employed workers such as freelancers, plumbers and hairdressers plunged into “desperate straits.”

He added that the crisis offered an opportunity to also crack down on agencies exploiting people in bogus self-employment and precarious work.

Mr McDonnell told Mr Sunak that the opposition was not “looking for a row over this” but instead was seeking “something we can go back with today to give some assurance.”

He said: “I urge the government to at least set a deadline so we can go back to our members and say: ‘By the end of this week, there will be a proposal brought forward.’

“If we can go back and say: ‘You will get the equivalent of the 80 per cent or whatever that was offered to other workers,’ it would lift people’s spirits that something was on the way.”

Last week, Mr Sunak promised the government would cover 80 per cent of wages of employees whose workplaces have been shut down due to the virus.

Today he said that self-employed workers will have to wait for the government to come up with a “deliverable and fair” package.

He added that there were “genuine practical and principled reasons why it is incredibly complicated” but did not offer reasons.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has come under increased pressure to help the self-employed, who have faced a sudden and huge loss of income due to a drop in available work and if forced to self-isolate.

Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey said that millions of self-employed and gig-economy workers will “dread being sent home because it means that they will have no wage.”

He called on the government to work with trade unions to provide urgent clarity for the workers who are not sure if their work is deemed “essential.”

Mr Johnson stipulated on Monday night that only “essential workers” should attend their workplaces.

Mr McCluskey said: “Confused messages and lack of financial support are at odds with the urgency of this health emergency.

“Workers need clear direction and protection from government now.”

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