Despite businesses being forced to temporarily close and the self-employed facing a period of no income, the Treasury Minister says his department has not been contacted for support.
Alf Cannan was asked by Claire Christian MHK what plans the Treasury has to provide financial support to businesses and the self-employed affected by the track and trace policy requiring self-isolation for 10 days; and if he will make a statement?
In his response, Mr Cannan said that under the current regulations, only people who test positive for Covid have to isolate and that for those who do, they are treated the same as people accessing incapacity benefit, which they can self certify for up to 21 days. He added: ‘Self-employed individuals who have paid their NI at the appropriate time can claim short-term incapacity benefit for the period they are unable to work. They may also be entitled to income support depending on their circumstances.’
The Minister added that the Economic Recovery Group was continuing to monitor the situation and consider any action required.
However his answer did little to appease Mrs Christian who said: ‘The majority of public facing businesses are reporting to me an up to 30% decline over the past two weeks. Customer cancellations due to isolations or nervousness, staff off work because they are isolating or waiting for PCR tests, restaurants and hairdressers are all reporting reduced bookings, taxi firms, doggy day care facilities, the self-employed, builders, painters, gardeners, driving instructors, this is affecting all of our front facing service industry.’
She added that business owners have described the recent weeks as the ‘most stressful’ of the pandemic, asked why salary support wasn’t being ‘switched back on’ and called on Mr Cannan to support Manx businesses which are forced to close.
However he responded: ‘The honourable member is stating the obvious in terms of, I think this whole court recognises that the island is facing a period of considerable disruption and in that respect we continue to review the situation. I don’t think it’s quite as easy as the honourable suggests, just switching on and off support schemes and expecting them to be allocated in the individual manner that she is inferring because I’ve repeatedly stressed to this court that we must deliver support on a fair and equitable basis and if we deliver it for one business then we must deliver it for all businesses.’
The Treasury Minister said that the gov has paid out millions of pounds throughout the pandemic to support jobs and businesses and that he had received job figures which ‘show yet again, another fall in unemployment to 467 people unemployed’.
He added: ‘The honourable member is telling me that the businesses have lost considerable trade and yet our unemployment figures continue to fall and actually I have yet to receive that sort of evidence that she is reporting of wholescale disruption to economic figures and turnovers provided by businesses. I do appreciate that this is a difficult time and it is somewhat chaotic, the ERG continues to monitor the situation and continue to receive information from businesses directly from DfE. If we believe or find out that the situation is so disruptive as to cause disruptive widespread economic impact such as businesses continuing to lose 30/40/50% of their turnover, then the ERG will have to seriously consider whether or not to turn the support mechanisms back on.’
Mr Cannan added that he is also responsible for spending taxpayers’ money and that the situation is ‘not easily controllable’.
Speaker Juan Watterson said he was aware of issues for, particularly self-employed people such as child minders and asked Mr Cannan to ensure ‘we don’t fall at the final hurdle and that we do still offer support when it’s needed’. Mr Cannan said he couldn’t work on individual cases and noted the difference between people being required to isolate and those choosing to isolate because of being a contact risk.