Who is falling through the cracks of the Job Support Scheme (JSS)?
On Thursday the 24th of September, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced a set of measures for the Job Support Scheme (JSS) in a statement to the House of Commons.
Building on the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (more commonly referred to as the ‘furlough scheme’), the Job Support Scheme seeks to protect ‘viable jobs’ and businesses who are facing lower demands over the winter months due to the coronavirus.
Designed to cater to companies who can support their employees throughout the Covid storm, the Job Support Scheme attempts to only focus on saving businesses that can keep their staff on throughout the pandemic. While this less inclusive approach has received a vast amount of backing from certain economists and Tory MPs, the support scheme has also received widespread backlash for leaving millions of people without the ability to apply for government support.
So, throughout this article, we are going to take a closer look at the sectors of society falling through the cracks of this support system. Let’s gain a deeper understanding of how these measures are affecting people across different industries and forms of employment, before exploring what options are out there for those who these new measures are leaving behind.
The new set of emergency measures announced at the end of September replaces the furlough scheme, which spanned from the 20 March to 31 October. Since it was launched, this furlough scheme has saved over 9 million jobs from disappearing and over 1.2 million employers have relied on the scheme to avoid mass redundancies. The scheme allowed employers to contact HMRC for a grant to cover 80% of the employee’s wages, affording each worker up to £2,500 in payments per month. The overarching aim of the scheme was to prevent employees from being dismissed by keeping them on the company's payroll. It was essentially available to any employer in the country, across a spectrum of sizes and sectors.
Dubbed by many as ‘furlough 2.0’, the JSS also focuses on helping people stay in employment by providing support to employees and employers whose income has been jeopardised by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, unlike its predecessor, the JSS offers a much less universal approach to job retention, since the criteria for applying to the scheme is narrower, and the support it provides is considerably lower.
This goes against the idea that the Job Support Scheme is an extension of the furlough scheme, and defines it instead as a replacement to the temporary job retention scheme. So, how exactly does it differ, and what are the specifics of these new measures that have been introduced?
The jobs support replacement scheme will see workers get three-quarters of their normal salary, with the support being capped at £697.92 per month for each individual - far lower than the previous Job Retention Scheme. The work that is undertaken by the employee will be paid for by the worker’s regular employer. Then the Government and the employer are expected to cover around 2/3rds of the pay the worker will have lost due to a lack of hours.
A maximum of 22% of employee’s wages will be covered by the Government, and, in total, the average employee is expected to lose around ¼ of their salary. The scheme is designed to be put in place for six months, and the JSS is much more focused around providing a sustainable, long term solution to job retention, which is why the Government is dramatically decreasing the £8 billion a month support it forked out to fund the furlough scheme.
Despite this, cash grants for businesses who have been forced to close have increased with the onset of the scheme, and employers that are using the JSS will still be eligible for the £1000 Job Retention Bonus that is paid to employers for each eligible worker they keep on their payroll until 31 January 2021.
The scheme is open to anyone in stable employment from the 23rd of September, and it’s also available to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) who didn’t get involved with the initial furlough scheme. The JSS is also available to some larger businesses, but they will only be eligible if their turnover has significantly declined in recent months.
Compared to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, however, the Job Support Scheme is being made available to a much narrower pool of people. Due to the push to cut back on government spending, there is a priority placed upon only providing support to jobs that are ‘viable’.
Under these circumstances, a ‘viable job’ is one that does not face the risk of redundancy, and one that is expected to be sustained throughout the wake of the coronavirus. This means that the scheme is only available to employees who are able to work at least a third of their contracted working hours, with these wages being covered by their current employer.
As Chancellor Rishi Sunak admitted when outlining the new scheme - not all jobs can be saved. This, unfortunately, means that large swathes of the population will be left out of these emergency measures and subsequently left to search for alternate forms of government funding. But who are the most notable groups of people who aren’t seen as qualified for the JSS?
The largest sector that appears to have fallen through the cracks of this scheme are those who are self-employed - a segment of society that has significantly suffered from late or inadequate government support since the onset of the lockdown in March.
As it currently stands, an estimated 3.1 million self-employed or ‘freelance’ workers are currently unable to claim on the Government’s support scheme, due to various restrictions.
The freelancers instead have been relying on a series of Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grants that have been administered twice for each six month period. The Government recently announced a six-month extension of this support scheme, where self-employed workers will be eligible to receive 20% of their usual trading profits. But this is a substantial reduction when compared to the previous grants, and many are criticising it for not going nearly far enough to aid freelancers through this challenging time.
Jessica Holland (based in London), is a freelance dancer working in the entertainment industry. She has gone from working back-to-back jobs (up to 2-3 a day pre-Covid-19) to only being able to find two jobs in total since mid-March - and she claims to be one of the lucky ones.
“It’s watching an industry that you love and that you’ve been part of for years and years absolutely collapse, and no one really seems to be talking about it or wanting to try and help support it,” Jessica tells MarketFinance when commenting on the hit to the entertainment industry. “In terms of my career as a performer, it’s gone, to be honest”.
Jessica lives with her partner, who is currently working, which makes her ineligible to apply for any government finance, forcing her into alternative work as a personal trainer. She’s one of the millions of other self-employed workers in the UK who are finding themselves left in the shadows of the Government’s Coronavirus safety nets.
Jessica’s personal experiences are far from unique. They are echoed by Aoife Jane’s, a London-based theatre graduate who has since switched professions to work in education. Aoife was forced to cancel a series of jobs she had lined up in the entertainment sector when the lockdown was implemented in March, pressuring her to choose between moving back home with her parents or trying to find alternate work in London while also relying on universal credit.
When asked about how she felt towards the changes to the industry, and the lack of support from the Government, Aoife told MarketFinance that she ‘felt such intense despair that it was all over, as a career in the arts is such a pipe dream anyway, especially coming from a working-class town in the North East”, adding that “it felt like any chance of grasping that has completely gone.”
Aoife also mentions that this is the shared reality of many other young self-employed people who had just started to find their way in the already competitive industry, commenting that she thinks the ones that are really struggling are the early-career artists who are just starting out.
She’s one of the estimated 200 thousand newly self-employed workers in the UK that are exempt from applying to focused financial care packages that have been provided by the Government - and is amongst a growing wave of freelancers who are demanding for pressure to be put on the Government to help the millions of UK residents that have been left with little or no emergency help.
As a result of the gaps in the JSS, civil resistance appears to be rearing its head in many forms - with one of the most eye-catching being a choral cry for help, based on the song ‘One Day More’ from the musical Les Misérables.
The project was orchestrated by members of ExcludedUK; a campaign group focused on bringing an end to the exclusions in the UK Government’s Covid-19 support measures.
The video, which was created to spread awareness about the situation for millions of people, and to plead for the Government to bail out people whose incomes have disappeared since lockdown, features a hundred self-employed workers singing the famous musical number over images of Sunak addressing parliament. The song’s original lyrics, however, have been replaced with: ‘watch us turn to dust, silent as we fall’ and ‘poverty and food banks will hurt us all’, to align with the group’s overarching message.
Far from methods of activism only being confined to the online world, 400 of the UK’s finest musicals recently took to the streets, staging a socially-distanced concert in Parliament Square to protest the lack of targeted financial support available for freelance artists.
Organised by British violinist Tasmin Little, the ‘Let Music Live’ protest saw a crowd of majoritively freelance musicians play through a fifth of ‘Mars’ from the Holst’s The Planets, before standing in silence for two minutes. The act was designed to bring attention to the fact that the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) only forks out 20% of a freelancer’s expected salary, leaving a stark 45% of musicians with no support at all.
The concert set out to question the premise that art jobs in the art sector are not seen as viable; referring to the fact that Rishi Sunak’s speech outlined the Jobs Support Scheme was only setting out to protect as many ‘viable’ jobs as possible.
It also aimed to draw attention to the value of the arts and culture industries at large, with many banners highlighting how the sector contributes over £10.8 billion a year directly into the UK economy.
This form of activism, however, is not accessible to all of those who currently feel excluded by the limited government measures, with theatre graduates like Aofie claiming that they don’t currently have the time nor energy to get involved with forms of campaigning and activism that they’re not getting paid for, due to the limitations of the new economic reality in which they find themselves.
In addition to self-employed workers, it’s feared that the Jobs Support Scheme will also not go far enough to protect the livelihoods of those who work in the hospitality industry.
In a recent announcement from the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA), chief executive Marc Crothall warned that the jobs in hospitality are still very much at risk, claiming that the JSS will fail to prevent mass redundancies in this sector. This sentiment is echoed by the British Beer and Pub Association, who believe that (although parts of the plan are welcome), it still doesn’t provide the level of support required to protect thousands of at-risk jobs.
Due to the heady combination of nationwide curfews and restrictions on group sizes, the hospitality sector is still very much weathering under the effects of Covid. Without adequate funding from the Government, those in the industry will still be vulnerable to mass lay-offs.
In addition to this, the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank focused on improving the living standards for those on low to middle incomes, explains that since the JSS would require firms to pay employers for hours not worked, it leaves them with little or no incentive to use it anyway.
Standing as one of the most heavily impacted industries by the Covid-19 pandemic, the virus forced air travel to reduce by a whopping 97% throughout 2020, putting the whole existence of the sector at threat.
Heathrow’s CEO, John Holland-Kayne expressed the extent of damage that further collapse to this industry would cause. He warned that losing the UK’s aviation industry would be the modern-day equivalent of when the mines closed in the North of England, alluding to the mass lay-offs that would take place as a result.
Unfortunately, however, members of the aviation industry are criticising the new measures for coming into practice too late, as thousands of jobs in the field have already been lost.
The limitations of the JSS was even called out by the leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), Manual Cortes, who claimed that even though the scheme was ‘better late than never’, the delay in action when it comes to the JSS has already seen jobs lost by the thousands and caused needless anxiety among millions of aviation workers throughout this already-stressful time.
Due to the nationwide restrictions on in-store shopping and the subsequent large-scale shift to e-commerce throughout quarantine, the retail industry has been hit extremely hard; and many jobs in the sector have been put on the line.
In total, an estimated 125,000 jobs have been lost across the UK, and 14,000 shops have been forced to permanently close their shutters. Paddy Lissis, the general security of the shopworkers union Usdaw, expressed that the JSS doesn’t go far enough when it comes to protecting jobs and bolstering the crumbling sector, claiming that more bold, radical action is required when it comes to safeguarding brick-and-mortar shops from the competition presented by online retail.
And, as a second wave sweeps across much of the UK, retail businesses across the country are in even greater need of robust financial interventions in order to prevent thousands more retail workers and business workers from falling through the cracks.
With the events industry effectively coming to a complete standstill as soon as the country lurched into lockdown in mid-March, most people who belonged to the events industry have been unable to find work in the sector since. The events industry comprises over 25,000 businesses and employs over 700,000 workers across the UK. Without targeted and extensive government support, it’s estimated that around 61% of businesses in this industry will have ceased trading by March 2021.
Since the Job Support Scheme is only targeted at those who are able to work at least a third of their normal hours, it leaves sectors who have been out of action for months at greater risk of collapsing. With no revival of the events industry predicted to take place any time soon, and without adequate governmental support, the future of the sector (and the jobs it provides) look to be in great jeopardy.
Self-Employed Income Support Scheme grant extension - For self-employed workers who are left out of the Jobs Support Scheme, the Self-Employed Income Support Grant grant offers up two cash instalments over a six month period, stretching from November 2020 to April 2021. This extension is for individuals who are currently eligible for the Self-EMployment Income Support Scheme, and who are actively continuing their trade but are facing reduced demand due to the coronavirus.
All grants are subject to Income Tax and National Insurance, and for more information on the grant and full details on how to claim, visit the official UK government website here.
The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) - Designed to protect businesses affected by the Coronavirus. CBILS is a government-backed loan scheme that provides financial support for small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs), with a maximum amount of £5 million payable to each business. For UK companies who have been adversely affected by the pandemic, can prove that they would be viable otherwise, and have an annual turnover of less than £45 million, CBILS provides a fast, simple way to apply for loans that can help keep your business afloat throughout these difficult times.
If your business is exempt from applying to the revised Jobs Support Scheme, or the financial support it provides isn’t enough to keep your business ticking over, the CBILS is a practical way to close those gaps in cash flow, as no fees are charged for 12 months, and the scheme features relatively low rates of APR.
MarketFinance provides businesses with a quick and easy platform to apply for CBILS loans. We don’t believe in hidden fees, and our customer service team is on hand to help from application to on-going account management. So, if you’re looking to apply, are interested in learning more about it, or want to look at our other finance options - take a look at our page here!
The Coronavirus Bounce Back Loan (BBL)- Much like CBILS, the Coronavirus Bounce Back Loan provides government-backed low-interest loans to businesses that have incurred financial losses from the Covid-19 pandemic. If your business isn’t currently suffering bankruptcy or liquidation and wasn’t in difficulty as of the 31st of December 2019, then you’re likely to be eligible to apply. BBL is more designed to provide backing to smaller businesses than CBILS, and due to this, the maximum amount of funding available is capped at £50,000. To apply to the scheme and for more information, visit our site here.