‘Could have done a better job sat round a fire with a couple of friends’ – Travellers on coronavirus self-employed support

27 March 2020
‘Could have done a better job sat round a fire with a couple of friends’ – Traveller react to coronavirus self-empl

Gypsy and Traveller businessmen are saying that the Government has not gone far enough after the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday announced support measures for the self-employed during the coronavirus crisis.

The measures announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak are to pay self-employed workers 80% of their average earnings for the last two tax returns if they can no longer work.

Research shows that many Gypsy and Traveller people are self-employed.

Yet Rishi Sunak's measures did not go far enough, said a Traveller businessmen contacted by the Travellers’ Times.

“I'm a little bit disappointed on all fronts,” said Romany Gypsy Bill*, who works in the tree surgery and maintenance trade.

“Firstly they are offering back pay, but only when June comes as it's not going to be ready until then, which is disappointing as those who are not working currently who will still have to pay staff, rates, insurance etc, with nothing coming in for at least 12-14 weeks,” he added.

 “Fortunately I am booked up with work for several weeks so I won't need it personally need it, but if I did I wouldn’t know what to do!

Bill, who employs “quite a few” other full time staff, said that he knew many other self-employed Travellers who ran businesses employing staff who were struggling. The promise to pay 80% of retained staff wages was not translating into ready cash to pay wages and bills, he added.

“The Government said they'd cover staff wages for three months and I was glad to hear this as I currently employ quite a few people full time, but I only recently found out that there will be no cheques written by the government to pay staff - only 80%of staff wages knocked off tax bills; which means I have to pay their wages whether I'm working or not - so thank God I am,” said Bill.

It’s the working men like myself who is going to have to pick up the tab at the end of it all

“I feel a little bit cheated if I'm honest and it is the working men like myself who is going to have to pick up the tab at the end of it all. I won’t personally be using any of the Government help schemes as I'm fortunate enough be able to work through this I hope - but as a result of the whole situation I'll be paying more tax at the end of this.

I know it's for a good cause but I can’t help but think there was a better solution for the self employed from people who are supposed to be educated.”

Bill also said that the Government’s support for small businesses had flaws.

"They have deferred VAT, which is honestly is no help whatsoever, and then I’ve got to pay double in June anyway. I've also got no income tax to pay until January 2021, as we are skipping July, but then in January I have to pay double. It makes no sense to me. Surely it's best paid now so that money can go back immediately into the NHS?

But what do I know, I'm only an old Gypsy boy, but I'm sure I could have done a better job working out this policy sat round a camp-fire with a couple of friends.”

Bill also raised concerns about Showmen and other Gypsies and Travellers who work in the Funfair trade. He told the Travellers’ Times that he knew friends who were really struggling.

The funfair trade is dead, he said, no one wants to go to a funfair and now they are shut by the Government.

“It's worrying times ahead for everyone,” said Bill. “The economy is going to take a hit and as a result people will not be spending which will have a knock on effect over the next six months for people in the Travelling community.”

Yet Travellers, like Bill, are resourceful and adaptable and have been part of the British Isles economy for centuries - even during periods like today - when Travellers have been stigmatised by the rest of society.

The Travellers’ Times spoke to Mike Joyce – an Irish Traveller/Pavee businessman - who normally provides high-end professional services to other businesses.

“I have been thinking a lot about how to make money to keep going and have dragged my tipper truck back out of retirement,” said Mike Joyce.

“I have a legal waste removal licence and think the government will need help if the council waste services go down.”

*Bill  – like many Gypsies and Travellers – is a legitimate business owner who pays all his taxes. However, most of his customers do not know he is a proud Romany Gypsy. To protect Bill’s business from racism, the Traveller’s Times has agreed to keep his identity and his business hidden.

A good – but critical - explainer of the governments support for the self-employed can be found on the Guardian website: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/26/coronavirus-uk-offers-self-employed-80-of-earnings

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(Stock picture: Appleby Horse Fair © Natasha Quarmby/Fields of Light)