When ExcludedUK was formed back in May 2020, we had every hope that our efforts to raise the plight of the +3 million individuals and businesses that were entirely or largely excluded from government Covid-19 support could lead to meaningful change. We certainly didn’t expect to be still talking about this issue two years on. There were easy fixes which highlighted to Government time and again, as did many high-profile supporters and a whole host of industry bodies, unions and other organisations. But our voices weren’t heeded.
There has been no recognition from Government of the financial hardship, poverty, severe debt and the multitude of wider short and long term impacts faced by all those affected. They’ve simply been left to find their own path to get back on their feet. And so many have not, through absolutely no fault of their own. All to the sounds of repeated assertions from Government on what help has been given – something that has been highly exasperating for all those affected.
We lobbied as vigorously as we could – we established the largest APPG in history, we spoke to Government ministers, we circulated regular briefing papers to inform parliamentary debates and beyond and we galvanised the support of MPs from all political parties. We conducted in-depth research, collaborated with various other organisations and spoke at numerous events, while our message was all over every major broadcast outlet, prime time slots, with huge coverage on national, local and industry press and media.
On 1 March 2021, we sent an open letter to Rishi Sunak, asking him to do the right thing and provide the much-needed support to all those excluded. The letter gathered the support of 79 MPs, metro mayors Andy Burnham, Dan Jarvis, Sadiq Khan and Steve Rotheram, over 40 industry bodies, campaign groups and unions, high-profile figures Martin Lewis, Gina Miller and John Caudwell, numerous academics, plus thousands of individuals.
Yet, last year’s Spring Budget gave us only one thing – the inclusion of tax returns for the previous year in calculations for SEISS. However, we completely disputed the figure of 600,000 that the Chancellor said were now included, assessing that the number of those able to receive any meaningful support to be fairly minimal.
This slight amendment to the criteria (which in any case would have been absurd if it hadn’t been made with the time that had passed) plus ARG grants (which in themselves were highly problematic and inconsistently allocated, creating a postcode lottery) were nothing more than very small victories. But if at least some of those affected were able to access funds they may not have been able to otherwise, then that’s something we did achieve.
Two years of campaigning has been nothing short of exhausting and despite all our best efforts with all the support we gathered, the struggle continues. This week’s latest Budget offers nothing remotely meaningful to help those who were left out in the cold financially during the pandemic. And with the cost of living crisis that we’re now facing as inflation hits a new high alongside inevitable increases in business costs, there’s no consolation for all the hardworking taxpayers and valuable businesses serving our communities that were left high and dry by the Government during the pandemic.
Being ‘excluded’ was a sheer injustice that simply must be addressed in the forthcoming Coronavirus public enquiry and, most importantly, must never happen again. Yet, one thing that the issue has brought into sharp focus is the fact that this all stemmed from deep-rooted issues that were always there – a sheer lack of understanding on Government’s part of what it is to be in precarious modes of employment, what it means to be self-employed or a small limited company director and its many challenges – not least getting paid on time, discrimination in relation to parental rights, that workers’ rights and working conditions are simply not adequate. Systemic change is absolutely vital and this is the outcome we want to see from the public enquiry.
Sonali Joshi, 24 March 2022
Co-Founder / Director of Policy & Communications, ExcludedUK