The Government has spent billions supporting businesses through coronavirus. But the safety net has not included all workers equally, and some sectors are yet to be allowed to reopen even as support winds down.
In the concluding part of this series featuring companies and individuals being failed by coronavirus rescue measures, small company directors ask why more is not being done to help them.
Peta Stratford-Johns was looking forward to a busy year of her work producing and stage-managing conferences.
But with her bookings cancelled due to the pandemic, she has had no gigs since March and has lost some £47,000 in income.
Her financial worries have been compounded by getting little Government support – £560 a month – due to the perfectly common way her earnings are structured as a limited company director.
“I still have real trouble sleeping – I wake up around 1.45am and lie there,” says the 63-year-old. “It’s been awful, horrendous.”
Announcing billions of pounds worth of support for workers affected by the pandemic, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, pledged to “stand together with the British people”.
Many limited company directors like Stratford-Johns, however, feel he is not standing with them.
They get little from the Government’s wage subsidy scheme for workers on leave, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), as it does not recognise income from dividends – the way many limited company directors are paid.
For example, Stratford-Johns’ £560 payments for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is based on her £650 monthly salary, which is only a small portion of her total income boosted by dividends.
Paying in dividends is generally done to help their small companies cope with fluctuations in income, and is often advised by accountants.
IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, believes about 710,000 limited company directors are getting little support, and warns that failure to help them will put the economic recovery at risk.
“They will be the ones we will turn to, to get the economy going again on the other side of this. It is very important that we get support to them,” it has said.
Three million people left behind
Campaign group Excluded UK believes they are among about 3.1m people in many sectors across the country not getting enough help.
Despite calls for the Government to fix the mis-match, including from MPs, Sunak, has insisted that it would be too complex to verify income paid through dividends, and the system would be open to abuse.
“Though this was a difficult decision, I reached the conclusion that, for practical reasons, the Government will not be able to provide this,” he said in July.
A Treasury spokesperson added on Wednesday: “Eligibility criteria for support schemes exists to ensure that support could be made available rapidly, is focused on those who need it most and to minimise fraud.
“The swift action we’ve taken has protected millions of jobs and livelihoods across the country and our support package is one of the most comprehensive and generous in the world.”
Stratford-Johns (daughter of the late actor Stratford Johns, best known for his role as Charles Barlow in the 1960s BBC series Z Cars) isn’t buying it. “I am absolutely disgusted with Government and their back-of-a-fag packet policies,” she says.
“They have been told on so many occasions how simple it is. There is just this feeling of that we are hated – that we are hated by these people, that we don’t matter.
“I am 63 – I have worked since I was 15 so I have paid taxes for 47 years and now it’s ‘too difficult’ to support us.”
She adds that she incorporated her business in 2003 as clients prefer to use a limited company. Now she feels let down for pursuing a perfectly legal avenue. She is not the only one to feel unfairly treated.
Borrowing from friends to live
Wedding band guitarist and singer Dave Moran, also a limited company director, said he had also struggled to access support, despite being paid an annual salary rather than through dividends.
He is now getting some money from Universal Credit, but not until a few months had gone by without support. Now he finds himself getting deeper into debt.
“I had bought a house to renovate but now I am stuck paying a mortgage on an unliveable house. Every door seems to lead to a difficult situation. I have been borrowing from friends and family.
“We employ and subcontract people, we have run things as well as we can, run things fairly. It’s pretty appalling to have built this business and to have contributed for so long, for all of this to happen.”
Read more in our series on the workers and businesses left behind by the Government’s pandemic response: