In the unprecedented times in which we find ourselves the Government has speedily introduced new legislation that will help deal with the Coronavirus pandemic.
It is called the Coronavirus Bill and after going to the House of Lords today (Tuesday March 24th 2020) it will go back to the House of Commons and be made law before the end of this week. Although it has gone through the parliamentary process far more speedily than a Bill would normally, there have been a number of amendments tabled and we will find out over the coming days which of those proposed changes to the Bill are accepted by the Government.
You will know that the Bill also gives ministers the power to require the temporary closure of schools or registered childcare providers, and that has already happened. The position may differ in England and Wales given the devolved powers that the Welsh Government have in relation to childcare and education.
At the moment there is only one amendment tabled with specific reference to education. It was tabled by Munira Wilson and Sir Edward Davey from the Liberal Democrats and it requires schools or providers of education to those aged 16-18 that close to continue providing educational provision.
The Bill also contains a number of measures aimed at ensuring workers and businesses are able to subsist during the coming months. You will know that there is widespread concern that urgent action is needed to properly protect self-employed workers as well.
We are lobbying on your behalf for urgent measures to help the self-employed. For example, yesterday we made this submission the Treasury Select Committee call for evidence. We have also raised the issue with the Welsh Government to ensure that this is given swift consideration in Wales.
At the time of writing there is also an amendment tabled in the Bill that provides for self-employed workers.
Again, it is tabled by the Liberal Democrats and proposes statutory self-employment pay to top up self-employment workers’ earnings to the lower of 80% of their net monthly earnings averaged over three years, or £2,917 a month (whichever is lower).
You can contact your MP now and ask him or her to support New Clause 13 - the proposal for statutory self-employment pay. For those living and working in Wales as well as contacting your MP you can also raise this issue with your local AM given that the Bill will also be discussed by the Welsh Assembly and the importance of parity of approach across England and Wales for any financial support for the self-employed.
Others in Parliament are raising this issue. Rachel Reeves, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has written to Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for BEIS, stating:
“The Chancellor’s package last week to support businesses and employees was welcome. But, with self-employed and freelancers still not covered by support – even as many of their businesses are now subject to lock-down – there is a worrying gap in the Government’s strategy to protect these livelihoods which urgently needs to be put right.
“Support rapidly needs to be extended to the self-employed and freelancers, to increase the rate of statutory sick pay to the real living wage to help those who are sick or self-isolating, and for the Government to take the ambitious steps required to support the over five million self-employed people in the UK through this crisis.
And today the Chancellor has been answering questions in the House of Commons on this subject. He has committed to working on the issue as a priority and to making an announcement soon. However, we don’t know when that announcement will come and we will keep up the pressure until we know what exactly is being done.
You will of course be aware that the Coronavirus Bill also contains a wide range of powers that will change the way we work and operate our daily lives.
Many of the things that are happening anyway, such as the closure of pubs, restaurants, non-essential shops and so on, will be formalised by the Bill. There are also special powers for public health officials, who can take measures to protect the public from anyone taking unnecessary risks in relation to the virus.
Some elements of the bill (such as the emergency registration of health professionals) will take immediate effect on Royal Assent. Others, including those relating to emergency volunteers, temporary modifications to mental health legislation and food supply will only take effect when a minister, following public health advice, makes a regulation switching them on.
The new laws in the Bill will last for two years, although they will be reviewed every six months.
Remember that there is loads more information about what the coronavirus pandemic in our Spotlight and you can also have your say on its impact on your business in our survey.