‘They forgot about us’: Self-employed taxi drivers face huge drop in earnings

According to the Unite union, which surveyed more than 200 cabbies across Scotland, 80 per cent of drivers have lost up to three-quarters of their regular income

Before Covid-19 struck, Michael was making a healthy living as a self-employed taxi driver in Glasgow.

He typically earned between £18,000 and £25,000 a year, enough to help look after his three young children alongside his wife of 12 years. Family dinners at local restaurants were a treat and the flexible hours meant he could spend more time with his kids.

But lockdowns have hit the taxi industry hard. Michael has paid himself just £7,500 so far this year.

The 36-year-old, who works for a popular ride-hailing app, said that as he had only been self-employed for two years, he wasn’t eligible for any help from the Scottish Government.

He told the Big Issue he felt let down: “The Government forgot us. They didn’t help, they didn’t care. It’s not even about the money, it’s about showing some sympathy.”

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Michael, whose name has been changed as he feared not being able to renew his license with the company if he was identified, isn’t alone in feeling left out in the cold over coronavirus. Scottish taxi drivers held a “mobile demonstration” outside the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday to protest against a “lack of support” from the devolved Government. 

Drivers from the Unite union gathered during a meeting of a Rural Affairs and Connectivity Committee to highlight the experiences of taxi drivers and raise awareness.

According to the union, which surveyed more than 200 cabbies across Scotland, 80 per cent of drivers have lost up to three-quarters of their regular income and 30 per cent have been unable to access any financial help from Government support schemes. 

Unite Scotland secretary, Pat Rafferty, said: “It’s estimated that there are around 36,000 taxi drivers across Scotland, with the majority of them having dramatic cuts in their income with around a third having had access to no Government support at all.”

The union is also demanding the release of a £19 million fund to help taxi drivers promised by Finance Secretary Kate Forbes MSP last week. 

“We need urgent clarification and the release of the promised support from last week and a commitment to continue to support the trade,” Rafferty added. 

Taxi drivers in Scotland aren’t alone in facing hardship. The GMB union warned the Chancellor last week the taxi and minicab industry was on the “verge of collapse” as demand plummeted. 

In a letter to Rishi Sunak, the union warned self-employed drivers had “fallen between the cracks” due to a lack of financial assistance.  

Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “Those professionals left in the sector, mainly self-employed, have suffered a massive cut in incomes, around 70 to 80 per cent compared to last year.

“This is the largest transport sector in the country and provides vital transport for the NHS, schools, as well as vulnerable and disabled people.

“Lockdowns and the tier restrictions will be in place for some time, the economy is not going to reset itself back to pre-covid levels overnight.

“There is no light at the end of the tunnel for drivers and operators who desperately need urgent Government assistance to save their livelihoods and this great industry.”

Last month, mayors from across England also called on the Chancellor to provide support for three million self-employed workers who have missed out on support during the coronavirus crisis.

For Michael, he is considering going back to his old job as a store manager as the costs of being a taxi driver begins to outweigh the benefits. 

“I expected more from Nicola Sturgeon,” he added.

“I thought she was different, but she promised things and then didn’t do anything for us. She’s playing a game for independence. She didn’t protect us.” 

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We understand how difficult this pandemic has been for taxi drivers and their families, which is why on December 9 the finance secretary announced £19 million of targeted support for taxi drivers through a one-off grant, which will be available from January.

“We are currently considering further support for fixed costs pressures on self-employed taxi drivers and others and are actively taking steps to fill in the gaps in UK-wide schemes.

“This includes £15 million for newly self-employed people who are not able to access other forms of financial support.

“In October we opened the Covid-19 Public Transport Mitigation Fund, offering £5 million of funding to support installation of equipment that reduces the risk of coronavirus transmission on public, community and school transport, including taxi and private hire operators.”



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