Self-employed Persons: Financial Support Debate

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Department: HM Treasury

Self-employed Persons: Financial Support

Sir Edward Leigh Excerpts
Tuesday 24th March 2020

(6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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HM Treasury
Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay - Hansard

May I first welcome the constructive tone that the right hon. Gentleman has struck? His offer to come to the Treasury might contravene some of the recent social distancing requirements, but I appreciate the spirit in which it was made. He is right that we need to move at pace and to work together. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was involved in further meetings this morning, as he will be later today, as we work through how to take this forward.

The Chancellor was drawing attention to the complexity of the target population. I think that a number of Members would have concerns, not least as we look to the future, if we were subsidising some very wealthy self-employed people. I take the point that they are not the ones getting in touch with the right hon. Gentleman, but it is important that our approach is mindful of the target population.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of reassurance, which is a legitimate concern, and one shared across the House. I draw the attention of his constituents, and those of colleagues across the House, to the Chancellor’s comments this morning. We are working at pace on this and we recognise the issue being raised. I hope that provides reassurance, certainly in terms of an announcement, although the operation of any solution may take further time, as the Chancellor set out.

Considerable work is being done, but the population is complex. We are looking at the burdens of different delivery mechanisms, whether on the Department for Work and Pensions or local authorities, which have their own staffing pressures because of the number who are ill. That is why we are exercising flexibility in lots of other areas in order to reprioritise resources, but it is important that the scheme is deliverable and mindful of the other challenges we are dealing with.

Sir Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con) - Hansard

May I make a point from a public accounts point of view by urging the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to consider a system that is humane, rapid and, above all, simple? The Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions have traditionally been obsessed with complexity, targeting and clawback, but what we need is a simple system. About 40 years ago I suggested having a universal basic income to Mrs Thatcher, and I got an earful for my pains. But we need something like that, which could be rolled out very simply and claimed by taxi drivers, cleaners and those sorts of people, because rich people would not bother with it. So just get on with it, make it simple and do it now.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay - Hansard

My right hon. Friend wants us to get on with it. I refer him to the meetings and the considerable work being done to allow us to get on with it. As a former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, he well knows that many policy ideas start with the simple but then the devil is in the detail of delivery. I recall many an interview that he has given to draw attention to simple schemes that were then less simple in their delivery. It is worth bearing in mind that a small number of self-employed people—a very small proportion—might be doing quite well in the current climate, while many others are suffering, but that is not what we are focusing on now. The question that we are seeking to address is how we target our measures at those who are most deserving, which is what the attention of the House is focused on, and we need to ensure that the scheme that is brought forward does likewise.