NEWS
27/05/2020 13:28 BST | Updated 27/05/2020 13:40 BST

Living Costs Mount Up For Workers Left Out Of Furlough Scheme

People who've fallen through the gaps of the government's financial help scheme tell us they have no idea when they can go back to work.

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At the start of May, as the number of coronavirus cases in the UK began to steadily fall, Boris Johnson issued an address to the nation. 

The PM urged employees who could not do their jobs from home to return to work – as long as they were able to maintain social distancing and avoid public transport. 

But for those whose industries cannot begin to function again, this is not an option – despite the fact many workers have not received a pay packet for several months. 

As HuffPost UK reported in March, in sectors such as television and theatre, short-term PAYE contracts lasting just weeks or months are the norm.

And while many people who take on short-term PAYE contracts might categorise themselves as self-employed or freelancers, they are ineligible for either of the government’s two main financial assistance schemes.

Most cannot be furloughed through the employee retention scheme, but cannot access the self-employment income support scheme (SEISS) either.  Their only option was to apply for welfare support through Universal Credit – but those with partners on furlough, or with savings set aside due to a lack of industry pension contributions, did not qualify. 

TV producer Vicky Maitland, from Hertfordshire, has received no money since February. She and partner Ryan Forshaw have had to cover all their bills from his salary.

“To say the last two months have been stressful would be an understatement,” she told HuffPost UK.

“Not only did my entire industry shut down as soon as Covid-19 took hold in the UK, meaning I had no chance of employment for the foreseeable future, but I have also been left out of the government support packages through no fault of my own.

“This has left me not knowing how my bills and mortgage would be paid, let alone food and living costs.

“Mentally it’s been tough, knowing I have a proven track record of working through HMRC – I work hard and pay tax, yet for some reason I’m not eligible for the help I really need.”

Vicky Maitland
TV producer Vicky Maitland has had no financial support from the government during the coronavirus crisis.

Sound assistant Catherine Duffy, from Bolton, is in a similar position. The 37-year-old had been putting money aside in a lifetime ISA for her retirement, as she had limited access to workplace pensions, and was not able to claim any financial help as a result.

“I am now living off my savings and once I’ve obliterated them I likely still won’t be eligible for Universal Credit, because my partner has earnings – though not enough to cover our mortgage and bills,” she said.

“Finding a temporary job at this time is proving impossible. I am lucky to have my savings and have been managing, but feel angry that I’m having to spend it all just to live, having always been careful with my money, and that my taxes and any future increases will be used to support furloughed employees who earn much more than myself while I’m entitled to nothing.

“I also feel sad for those who are in my situation and have nothing to fall back on. Many PAYE freelancers are trainees who were only on minimum wage to begin with and now have been neglected in favour of salaried employees who may be earning six-figure salaries.”

Duffy said she has no idea when she will next be able to work and be able to support herself again.

She added: “A film or TV set is much more complex than most workplaces in terms of being able to social distance. The extension of the furlough scheme has been welcome news for many but for those left behind it has only served as a reminder that this could go on for some time, and has left us wondering how we will continue to support ourselves in the coming months.”

Richard Baker via Getty Images
A film industry crew remove camera and sound equipment from a location among members of the public in Kingston town centre, after filming outside in the street.

One freelance TV researcher was able to claim Universal Credit while living at home with his parents in Streatham, south London.

His last job was in December on BBC One’s Masterchef and he has not been paid a salary since then.

“I still have to pay rent to my mum and dad and after I’ve paid my bills there’s nothing left over,” the 26-year-old said.

“But I know I’m one of the lucky ones, I don’t have a landlord breathing down my neck. I just feel terrible when I speak to my boyfriend and he offers to help me out with buying things.

“I feel like last year was one of the best years I had, career wise. I had a long contract on Masterchef, I was doing really well and had loads of plans.

“Now it’s all just gone. You have to try and keep positive, or you’d just get really depressed. But it’s really hard for so many people.”

The researcher said his current situation has made him rethink his entire career.

“This has completely changed my plans. I’m not planning to work in TV for long now – there’s not enough protection and staff are treated so poorly. I think this might be the final straw for a lot of people,” he added.

“Even when things start to return to normal, there’s going to be so many people scrambling for the jobs that are available.”

The Forgotten Freelancer group has been set up to help those in similar positions and lobby ministers to do more to help people who have fallen through the gaps.

A recent survey by the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (BECTU) showed 45% of self-employed creatives have been left unable to access the SEISS grant and 33% of PAYE freelancers found themselves eligible for furlough.

Maitland, 31, said: “Along with BECTU, we would like to ask the government for a new scheme to be set up in parity with other schemes that pays 80% of the proven salary data HMRC holds – that way, there is no chance of the fraud that the chancellor is so keen to avoid.”

Earlier this month, chancellor Rishi Sunak has said he was “looking at the best thing to do” with the coronavirus self-employment income support scheme.

In an interview with the BBC, Sunak was asked if he would extend the scheme that enables self-employed workers to claim a taxable grant of 80% of their average monthly trading profits, up to a cap.

He said: “We’re looking at the best thing to do but […] many of those self-employed people are not in sectors which are necessarily closed or have an employer who has reduced their hours.” 

Polly Thomas via Getty Images
Some who have fallen through the gaps of government coronavirus support schemes have been left to sign on