Boris Johnson has announced the government will double the level of financial support for self-employed workers in November during the second coronavirus lockdown in England.
Faced with mounting pressure to help millions of workers before new measures are imposed on Thursday, the prime minister said the self-employment income support scheme (SEISS) would be increased from 40% of average profits to 80% in November.
People who work for themselves will be able to apply from the end of the month – rather than the middle of December as initially planned – to help provide support faster during the second lockdown in England.
It comes after the government announced a U-turn to extend the furlough scheme for employees at the weekend hours before it was due to close.
Furlough will now subsidise 80% of workers’ wages in November, rather than a reduced level of two-thirds under the new job support scheme replacement programme, which will now be launched a month later in December instead.
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, confirmed that the increase in help for the self-employed would be to an average of 55% of trading profits over the wider period from November to January, while the maximum grant available would increase to £5,160.
Detailing the changes on Twitter, the chancellor said the fourth update to his economic support package in almost as many weeks would offer £4.5bn of help to self-employed workers between November and January.
The Treasury said £13.7bn of support for self-employed people had been provided since the onset of the pandemic in March, on top of more than £40bn for employees through the furlough scheme.
Sunak said: “The rapidly changing health picture has meant we have had to act in order to protect people’s lives and I know this is an incredibly worrying time for the self-employed.
“That is why we have increased the generosity of the third grant, ensuring those who cannot trade or are facing decreased demand are able to get through the months ahead.”
The chancellor said the deadline for businesses to apply for a Treasury-backed loan had also been further extended, until 31 January. The government-backed loan schemes have so far supported more than 1m businesses to access more than £60bn of finance.
Business groups welcomed the additional measures but warned that millions of people were slipping through the cracks and urgently required support, including the newly self-employed, sole company directors and people who had lost their jobs.
Adam Marshall, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Despite this extension, there are still many businesses and individuals who have, through no fault of their own,, not yet been able to access any government support since the start of the pandemic.
“They too will require help to sustain their businesses and avoid further increases in unemployment.”