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Wage support exclusion ‘led six to suicide’

AT LEAST six people excluded from the government’s coronavirus wage support schemes have taken their own lives this month, a campaign group said today.

ExcludedUK represents the three million people in Britain who are not eligible for the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) or the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

Group members said today that another potential suicide had been averted on Sunday night.

A woman had written on ExcludedUK’s private Facebook group, of nearly 24,000 members, that she wanted to take her own life.

Group member Emma Carpendale said that “hundreds of members rallied around to talk this poor lady off the ledge.”

Another member, Alex Lacey, said that people had tried to contact the woman and that some had driven to her house with the intention of stopping her from harming or killing herself.

ExcludedUK blamed Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s policies for driving people to the brink.

Ms Lacey said: “The police have been called, the community is rallying. This is what the government has driven people to do.

“Some ExcludedUK people feel they have no other option after losing all their income, being in debt for the first time in their lives, losing their businesses, homes, families.

“Meanwhile every time Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson are questioned about it, they say they’re sorry not everyone has been helped ‘in the way they would have liked to be helped.’

“This is beyond unbearable. It’s not what we ‘like,’ it’s what we need … We’re sitting here dreading hearing the news that yet another person has died because of being excluded by Rishi Sunak.”

Ms Lacey said that ExcludedUK is involved in “talking someone down” from the brink of suicide every day.

Two of the six suicides known to have happened during November took place last Friday, the group said. One person was reportedly a limited company director who had two children.

Philippa Childs, head of entertainment union Bectu, said: “My respect for the determination and dignity of the hard-working people of ExcludedUK knows no bounds … It’s heartbreaking that Rishi Sunak and the government are ignoring these tragedies.”

According to ExcludedUK, people who have been ineligible for support include those who started new jobs when the pandemic hit, people who are part PAYE and part self-employed, new parents taking leave, limited company directors and freelancers.

The government has said that those not eligible for support should make claims for universal credit, business grants and funds through the Bounce Back Loan Scheme.

The Morning Star have approached the Treasury for comment.

Meanwhile, cross-party MPs are urging Mr Sunak to take heed of their advice to provide a safety net for people who have “fallen through the cracks.”

The Treasury committee said that concerns outlined in its Gaps in Support report published in June are yet to be addressed.

In a letter, committee chairman Mel Stride urged Mr Sunak to explore initiatives similar to those taken in Scotland and Northern Ireland to help those not eligible for the JRS or SEISS.

Both nations have set up hardship funds for those working in the creative and arts industries.

The Northern Ireland Executive has also set up a support scheme for small businesses that do not have premises, such as mobile hairdressers, and for small businesses that are suppliers or service providers to companies that have been forced to close.

Meawhile, 31 Labour MPs called on Mr Sunak to use Wednesday’s Spending Review to increase Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from £95.85 per week.

In a letter organised by Leeds East MP Richard Burgon, the MPs said that ensuring people can afford to self-isolate is key to tackling the coronavirus.

The MPs noted that “nearly two million low-paid workers are entirely excluded” from SSP because they do not earn at least £120 a week.

Commenting on the demands, Mr Burgon said that “our pathetically low level of sick pay is undermining the public’s efforts to reduce the spread of the virus.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner called on Mr Sunak to use the Spending Review to introduce a living wage of at least £10 an hour.

She accused him of “selling out” key workers “who have put their lives on the line through this crisis,” such as care workers, teaching assistants and hospital porters, in plans to freeze their pay for three years.

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