Small businesses across Cambridgeshire and the rest of the UK have been hit particularly hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. One sector particularly badly hit is the three million self-employed excluded from government support. Chris Kent is one of thousands in Cambridgeshire who have received no support during the pandemic. Chris contacted James Bull, Labour candidate for Waterbeach in this year’s Cambridgeshire county council elections to tell him her story. Chris started the K9 Project in 2008 www.thek9project.co.uk , providing alternative education packages, mental health support, personal development programmes, coaching and mentoring for children and young people. As Chris explains, “with my team of ex-homeless dogs, I provide animal assisted coaching rather than therapy.” Her business specialises in working with those with additional needs, special educational needs and social anxiety. She also voluntarily runs a community-based drop-in weekly café in Ely for adults, the K9 community café.
Covid-19 has hit her business hard. “Initially, during the first Covid-19 lockdown, I couldn’t work. Then, even when in theory I could work legally, because most of my business comes via schools and is often undertaken in schools, I have faced a serious challenge. Schools cannot allow other people in, or are closed, or are so busy facing other challenges that it is hard to find a way through the regulations.”
When asked what assistance she has received from the government, Chris sighs. “That’s simple. None. I have been excluded from support on the ‘50/50’ rule as I have a modest pension after 19 years as social worker. On one of the years used for the calculation, I reduced my workload to care for my mum with dementia and other health issues, so I earnt less than my pension. This time out to care for my mum was enough to exclude me, effectively for not earning enough. On a personal note I am now in considerable debt, which is not something I ever imagined.”
Chris has sent several letters to to her local MP, Conservative Lucy Frazer, the first on 13 November. “I heard nothing from Mrs Frazer, until an extremely brief response on 8 January that addressed none of my concerns. It may be a coincidence, but her letter arrived four days after I had replied on Twitter thanking the local SE Cambridgeshire Labour Party for a Tweet they had sent in support of people in Cambridgeshire excluded from support throughout the pandemic. In my Tweet I noted Mrs Frazer had failed to respond to my letters.”
“The Prime Minister has said that Britain is a place where ‘entrepreneurs can build on their ideas and find success’. Sadly, that isn’t my experience. From being encouraged to take up the entrepreneurial reins, we are now the people being penalised and excluded.”
“I think the government has spent money unwisely, supporting some groups of people and business who do not need it, rather than targeting the industries, areas, and small, self-employed businesses in critical need. They have wasted billions pushing money to large companies who simply don’t need it”
As we enter 2021, Chris has a number of wishes for the new year. “The ability to get my business up and running properly, so that I can once again support people fully. To receive some money from government to help with my substantial loss of income. Above all, to not feel worthless.”
James Bull believes that Christina and the thousands of others like her in Cambridgeshire who have been excluded from any support are justified in feeling let down. James argues, “From the first financial support package introduced by the Chancellor in the Spring, it was clear many people were unfairly excluded or completely slipped through the net. Labour has campaigned for the excluded throughout the pandemic. This failure to even engage also applies at local level with Conservative MP Lucy Frazer. Despite introducing further financial support, the government has done nothing to rectify the plight of the excluded. Business schemes for the self-employed could have been amended to address their needs, but nothing has been done. Our local businesses deserve better in these difficult times.
Labour understands that small businesses are the backbone of our economy and we will fight at national and local level to ensure that businesses like K-9, that provides a great service to the community, get the support that they deserve.”