A self-employed teacher from Torquay says he is among the three million people who have been left to “sink in the financial mire” after missing out on support during the pandemic.
Richard Beale, 68, of Higher Warberry Road, worked as an English language teacher for foreign students, as well as a consultant and exam supervisor.
But his work stopped due to the sector being badly affected by the pandemic as students stayed away from Devon and schools closed, hitting the workforce as well as host families who provide accommodation.
Because Mr Beale became self-employed in mid-April 2019, that was too late for him to qualify for financial support under the Government scheme to compensate workers for lost income during the Covid crisis.
He decided to speak out publicly to draw attention to the plight of those who were missing out on support, estimated at three million including 1.6million self-employed, and because he felt his requests for help were being ignored by politicians.
Mr Beale emailed Torbay MP Kevin Foster in August, outlining his circumstances and asking for advice on what other help might be available. He explained that income from pensions and his wife’s part-time job meant they did not qualify for Universal Credit, leaving them in a “dire” situation.
He wrote: “It seems desperately unfair that having started to build a revenue stream through self-employment only to see it destroyed by Coronavirus, I do not qualify for any government support whatsoever.
“Apparently I am one of those to be allowed to slip through the cracks. I think it unlikely that there will be any notable recovery in the ELT (English Language Teaching) sector before next year at the earliest.
“So much has been done for so many industries and individuals but the recently self-employed have been left to sink in a financial mire.”
Mr Beale received an email back from a member of the MP’s staff the next day which said it was a “complex situation”. The email advised Mr Beale to contact his bank or mortgage lender for help such as a payment break, and promised a full response.
He said he heard nothing more so sent an email reminder in mid-September, then wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in October about financial support and the lack of an update from his Conservative MP.
He told Mr Johnson: “Sadly it seems that my attempts to communicate with him are to be allowed to slip through the cracks in much the same manner as I am to be allowed to disappear into a mire of debt that can no longer be serviced.
“Perhaps Mr Foster feels so secure in his position with such an impressive majority that he does not feel the need to answer the more difficult questions. I hope not but I feel the absence of a response is unforgivable in the current circumstances.”
Mr Beale said he had left a recorded message after calling Mr Foster’s office, complaining about the lack of a full response, which was not replied to.
He contacted the Local Democracy Reporting Service about his case, and a reporter emailed Mr Foster’s office on November 19. Four days later, Mr Beale received an email from a member of the MP’s staff, outlining the financial help provided by the Government and what Mr Foster had been doing on behalf of constituents.
The email said the Government recognised the continued impact of the pandemic on the self-employed and had taken action through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, with grants covering up to April 2021.
It said Mr Foster had provided feedback from local people to the Government to improve support packages. He had been contacted by people in a variety of circumstances including taxi drivers and barbers, and would continue to “go into bat” for them “to try and get the best level of support he can”.
Mr Beale said it was not a party political issue, as he had previously been a Conservative voter.
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He said: “I do not expect Boris Johnson to drop everything on my behalf, I do not even expect him to see my letter, but I believe an acknowledgement from his office would have been the least I might expect, in the same way that I would expect a response from my parliamentary representative.”
He said the November email from Mr Foster’s office outlined the extension of the self-employed support scheme which he did not qualify for.
Nick Gray, Mr Foster’s chief of staff, said: “Contact between a Member of Parliament and a constituent is strictly confidential, and Kevin will not be commenting on this matter.”
A statement on the website for the Prime Minister’s office said that due to the high volume of emails, it was only able to deal with those “that relate directly to the Prime Minister”.
It said: “At this time we are not able to respond to emails that do not fall into this category or are of a general nature.”
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The campaign group Excluded UK says three million people have missed out on government financial support during the pandemic, including 1.6million who are self-employed.
A spokesperson for Her Majesty’s Treasury said: “We recognise that this is an incredibly worrying time for the self-employed – which is why we’ve increased the generosity of the third Self-Employment Income Support grant, ensuring those who cannot trade or are facing decreased demand receive 80% of their average trading profits for November.
“This grant is just one part of our comprehensive package of support for the self-employed, which also includes loans, tax deferrals, newly extended mortgage holidays and business support grants. The scheme’s eligibility criteria are designed to most effectively target support to low earners and prevent fraud.”