Collateral damage: the plight of the excluded

Photo by Mitchel Lensink on Unsplash
Share this article

You have not been forgotten. We will not leave you behind. We are all in this together.” So tweeted Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the exchequer at 17:56 on 26 May.

Sounds nice, huh? What a shame that it isn’t true. Some 3 million taxpayers, at a cautious estimate, feel utterly forgotten, completely left behind and not all in it together at all. Quite the reverse.

They are the excluded – men and women working in a wide range of industries and, in many cases, low earners, who have been left without any help or any prospect of help by a disastrous gap in the government’s Covid-19 financial support measures. To rub salt in the wounds, not only are they excluded from benefiting from the support, they are also vilified as potential fraudsters, who will game the system and rip off the government. This is a bit rich from a government handing out millions of taxpayers’ money to bankrupt or shell companies for satellites and non-existent PPE. But that’s a different story…

Right across the country, there are people whose livelihoods have been ruined by Covid-19, people who have earned nothing for four months or more, living off savings or loans from family and friends. Sunak stressed in his summer statement on 8 July that “no-one will be left without hope” and then went on to dash the hopes of the excluded, the very day after 180 MPs (many of them Conservatives) attended the largest all party parliamentary group (APPG) in history (set up by Jamie Stone, MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross). There, they heard the heartbreaking stories of just a few of the 3 million plus who have been pretty much written off by this government as “collateral damage”.

There is a very long list of categories of excluded people. The recently formed, non-profit advocacy collective ExcludedUK represents people who are:

  • Newly self-employed
  • Self-employed with +50k trading profits
  • PAYE freelancers
  • New starters
  • Denied furlough (generally because employer did not participate)
  • Directors paid PAYE annually
  • Directors paid in dividends
  • Directors of companies not in profit
  • New businesses
  • Low investment startups
  • Ineligible for business grants.

(You can see more detail behind these categories on the ExcludedUK website.)

There will be people in your community caught up in this situation. They have slipped through the cracks of the allegedly universal support schemes and tipped into financial difficulty and despair. They are care and hospitality workers, freelancers, creatives, short-term contractors, nannies, musicians, taxi drivers, IT consultants, driving instructors, teachers, entrepreneurs. Many represent the gig economy. They make money for the country and they vote. It is mystifying as to why any sensible government would discriminate against them.

Here’s musician Kate Openshaw, writing on social media, following Sunak’s summer statement.

“So, if I understand the chancellor correctly…

If I had been furloughed they would pay my employer to take me back, but I wasn’t because I’m #excludeduk

If I was 16-24 they would pay my wages in a new job for 6 months, but I’m 41 so I’m still #excludeduk

If I had enough money to buy a half million pound house I wouldn’t have to pay stamp duty, but I don’t, because I’ve been #excludeduk

If I had enough money to go to the cinema or on a little UK holiday or eat out, the VAT has gone down so it’ll be a bit cheaper, but I can’t afford it because I’ve been #excludeduk

If I could afford to eat out Monday -Wednesday in August, the government will pay up to £10 per person towards that, but I can’t because I’m still #excludeduk.

No help for the millions of people who have had nothing from this utter shambles of a government, but aren’t allowed to go back to work. I don’t know why I bothered to get my hopes up. Utterly forgotten and most definitely LEFT BEHIND, Rishi. Thanks for literally nothing.”

ExcludedUK’s spokesperson Rachel Flower, buoyed up briefly by the record level of interest for the APPG, expressed the group’s bewilderment at the government’s attitude and continual stonewalling. They are furious at Sunak’s claims that everyone in the country “has benefited one way or another” from government support, and furious at the government reneging on its commitment to do whatever it takes to keep people’s heads above water.

“People feel alone and abandoned.” She said. “We’ve got stories of people unable to feed their children, relying on foodbanks and succumbing to mental health issues – even to the extent of being suicidal. When they ask for help, the stock response is to go to the government website. They are told they will find help, but what they find instead is rejection. As an example, a chef who went self-employed back in December 2018, made multiple applications for a bounceback loan. He was refused every time because his suitability was based on his last three months’ income.

Nicola in Leeds worked for Mencap and was put on unpaid leave. She can’t claim income support or universal credit. These brave individuals told their stories at the APPG and MPs were visibly moved. They finally get it. These are, by and large, the people least likely to commit fraud. They are hard-working, tax-paying citizens. They should not be written off as “collateral damage”. We are going to need them when the Covid crisis is over, but some will never be able to come back from this.

MPs of all parties have got it, but Sunak and the government remain unmoved. Mel Stride, MP for Central Devon, delivered a powerful speech in the House on 7 July, calling out the injustice, seemingly to no avail. It is clear that Sunak, the Treasury and HMRC know this massive anomaly exists, but Sunak shrugs off the calls from all parties to address the injustice, saying, “We haven’t been able to help people in the way they would like.”

That might just be the understatement of the year.

Rachel Flower draws some comfort from the power of the people to pull together and get the campaign off the ground. She now looks to MPs to keep up the pressure but she has a nagging worry.

“Why won’t the government sort this out? Is it because their 80-seat majority makes them feel comfortable riding out this injustice? Do they think it will all be forgotten by the time of the next election in four years?”

The group must continue to look to the likes of Mel Stride and Anneliese Dodds to keep up the pressure and for big media figures like Martin Lewis to keep the issue in the news. The fight for fair treatment goes on.