‘The bridge through Covid is not there for me’: ExcludedUK meet with mayors

Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram heard stories of the three million workers ‘excluded’ from support during the Covid-19 crisis as they urge Rishi Sunak to act
Sadiq Khan joined fellow metro mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram in meeting with members of ExcludedUK. Credit: Mayor of London/Caroline Teo From MoL media bank.

England’s metro mayors have called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to listen to people “excluded” from receiving government support after hearing emotional stories of workers hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

London’s Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham of Manchester and Liverpool’s Steve Rotheram wrote to Sunak today urging him to ensure the three million self-employed workers who have missed out on support during the coronavirus crisis urgently receive financial help.

The Labour politicians sent the urgent letter on behalf of the grassroots pressure group ExcludedUK, who have amassed more than 60,000 members since forming during the pandemic. The campaigners say that 10 per cent of the UK workforce – amounting to three million taxpayers – have not received meaningful help from furlough or self-employed schemes since March.

Khan, Burnham and Rotheram spent Friday afternoon on a live-streamed meeting listening to the heart-breaking stories of how people had seen their incomes slashed in recent months. The London Mayor described what he heard as a ‘national disgrace’.

The trio heard from Judy, a self-employed translator, who is supporting her two sons on her widow’s pension that “barely covers the rent” as well as borrowing from her elderly parents. 

The 60-year-old told the mayors that her income alongside her eldest son’s income from a low-paid job means she is unable to receive Universal Credit. Her younger son is a full-time student so has been unable to claim Universal Credit and has also lost his job at a gym due to the pandemic.

She said: “There will be a job for me, I’m viable, I’m very able. I just needed a bridge from March to the other side of Covid which they have given everyone else. But it’s not there for me. I feel very discriminated against.”

I just needed a bridge from March to the other side of Covid which they have given everyone else. But it’s not there for me

Meanwhile, Zoe, a freelance theatre stage manager, broke down in tears as she told how the pandemic had taken its toll on her young family. She described how she was on maternity leave prior to the pandemic but is not eligible for support because of her earnings in previous years.

The impact on the theatre and live music industries – her partner working in the latter – means that Zoe’s young family are now selling up and leaving London to make ends meet. She said: “We’re moving in with my parents which isn’t ideal. In fact it’s quite demoralising at the age of 39 and 45 but it is the only financially safe thing to do for us and our son.”

In the letter, Khan, Burnham and Rotherham called for Sunak to “rectify the significant gaps in the self-employed scheme” and urged reform so “less people are excluded” as well as calling for Universal Credit change to make the “main safety net work better”.

Khan said: “It’s never been more important for Mancunians, Liverpudlians and Londoners to unite to ask for a fair and equitable response to this crisis from the government. The shameful treatment of the three million is a national disgrace.”

It will cost lives, businesses and the economy in the long run if we don’t do something

Burnham added: “I’ve always believed in putting in more than I take out and that goes from everyone on this call, that is the kind of people we have heard from. People not politics, Chancellor, please do the right thing.”

When asked about the cost to the Treasury, Rotherham responded by saying: “It will cost lives, businesses and the economy in the long run if we don’t do something. That’s the alternative. Doing nothing is not an option.”

However, a Treasury spokesperson acknowledged that “not everyone has been helped in the way they would have wanted”.

“Our Self Employment Income Support Scheme is one of the most generous in the world.

“We’ve acknowledged that not everyone has been helped in the way they would have wanted, but overall the Government has provided a huge amount to help businesses and families through this crisis.”

The Big Issue is fighting the housing and unemployment crisis through the Ride Out Recession Alliance, bringing together the most innovative ideas and experts to help keep people in work and in their homes during the recession.

If you have a story to tell about the economic impact of the pandemic or have an idea which might help, email rora@bigissue.com.

Big Issue vendors need your help now more than ever. More than 1,000 vendors are out of work because of the second lockdown in England. They can’t sell the magazine and they can’t rely on the income they need.

The Big Issue is helping our vendors with supermarket vouchers and gift payments but we need your help to do that.

Please buy this week’s magazine from the online shop or take out a subscription to make sure we can continue to support our vendors over this difficult period. You can even link your subscription to your local vendor with our new online map.

Thank you all so much for your ongoing support.