Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the package as it emerged 578 people had now died after testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK.
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A £9 billion package of support will see the Government give millions of self-employed people a grant worth up to £2,500 a month to help them cope with the effects of coronavirus.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the scheme which will be open for at least three months, will cover 80% of a self-employed person’s average monthly profits.
But it may not be available until June and will only be available to those who have a tax return for 2019, meaning the newly self-employed will be ineligible.
And Mr Sunak warned that the self-employed could face tax hikes in the future as part of the effort to “right the ship” and repair the battered public finances after the coronavirus crisis is over.
Details of the scheme came as the Department of Health announced a total of 578 people who have tested positive for coronavirus in the UK have died as of 5pm on March 25.
Some 11,658 people have tested positive in the UK as of 9am on March 26.
Mr Sunak’s scheme will be open to those with a trading profit of less than £50,000 in 2018-19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.
To qualify, more than half of their income in these periods must come from self-employment.
Up to 3.8 million people will qualify for support, with average monthly payments expected to be £940 per person.
Mr Sunak said the scheme, which will last for at least three months, “is one of the most generous in the world”.
“It targets support to those who need help most, offering the self-employed the same level of support as those in work.”
He said the measure covers 95% of people who receive the majority of their income from self-employment.
But in a hint that the self-employed could be asked to pay more to the taxman in future he said it was “now much harder to justify” the tax breaks on offer to the self-employed if they were receiving the same level of state support.
He said everyone would be “chipping in together to right the ship afterwards” once the crisis is over.
A number of self-employed workers welcomed the Chancellor’s measures but expressed concern about having to wait until June to claim.
Louise Barina, a production manager who lives in London, said: “After having spoken to our landlord, he has outright said no, that we can’t get a delay on our rent.
“In terms of the payment coming in June, that’s really problematic for us as that’s obviously three months of payment where we need to find the money for that.”
Casting director Sally McCleery, from Brighton, told the PA news agency: “80% is quite generous and we can live on that … our expenses are fairly low and we can live here and not spend too much money. We’re going to have to really watch the pennies until June.”
Meanwhile the Department of Health said revising its reporting approach for coronavirus deaths “to ensure data can be verified and published in a timely, consistent way”.
A statement on Twitter said: “Figures issued today are recorded as of 5pm 24 March to 5pm 25 March.
“Going forwards, figures on deaths will be recorded for the 24-hour period as of 5pm the previous day. Figures on tests remain as of the 24-hour period from 9am that day.”
In other developments:
– Criminals who deliberately cough at police officers while claiming to have coronavirus could face up to two years in jail, the country’s top prosecutor has warned
– The Home Office warned that people who continue to flout coronavirus lockdown rules will be breaking the law and could be arrested by police
– The Prince of Wales, who is self-isolating in Scotland after testing positive for coronavirus, thanked the public for the hundreds of get well messages he has received
– Home tests for people to find out whether they have had coronavirus could be available in a matter of weeks, says Public Health England
– Billionaire entrepreneur Sir James Dyson said the Government had ordered 10,000 ventilators from his company
– Downing Street said the UK had become the largest contributor to the international coalition to find a coronavirus vaccine after donating £210 million in new aid funding
– No10 indicated that additional coronavirus field hospitals are being considered around the UK and 500 of the additional 4,000 beds created in the NHS Nightingale Hospital being set up in London’s ExCeL centre will be available for use next week
– The Government raised the target for volunteers to help vulnerable people through the coronavirus crisis to 750,000 after almost 650,000 members of the public signed up to help the NHS
Boris Johnson has previously warned that the self-employed may not be able to get through the coronavirus crisis “without any kind of hardship at all”.
But the Prime Minister said he wanted to get “parity of support” so the self-employed could have similar levels of protection to waged workers.
Mr Sunak set out plans for 80% wage subsidies for PAYE employees last week.
Meanwhile, a national salute will take place on Thursday evening to honour the hardworking NHS staff who are trying to battle coronavirus.
In a gesture of thanks to the frontline healthcare heroes, everyone across the nation has been invited to join a a mass round of applause from their doorsteps, windows and balconies at 8pm.
Police officers in England were given the power to enforce the coronavirus lockdown as of 1pm on Thursday.
People who continue to flout the rules on staying at home will be breaking the law and could be arrested or fined. Officers can use “reasonable force, if necessary”.
Regulations are also expected to be introduced in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Deputy chief medical officer for England Jenny Harries said social distancing measures are starting to have an effect on the growth of coronavirus in the UK but “we must not take our foot off the pedal”.