Coronavirus (COVID-19) business support: equality impact assessments

Detailed equality impact assessments (EQIAs) for the COVID-19 business support funding issued between March 2020 and April 2021.

Newly Self Employed Hardship Fund

Name of Grant:

Newly Self-Employed Hardship Fund (NSEHF) Phases 1 and 2

Policy Lead

Ewen Scott/Lynne Blair

Legal power used:

Section 126 of the Housing Grants, Regeneration and Construction Act 1996

Grant Overview:


During the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic the Scottish Government announced the Newly Self-Employed Hardship Fund (NSEHF) as a means of supporting self-employed individuals in Scotland who were not eligible for the UK Government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), because they started self-employment on or after 6 April 2019. The fund launched on 10 April and provided a single one-off payment of £2,000. 8,002 applications were received with 5,602 Grants awarded (70 per cent of applications) amounting to £11,204,000. The grant closed in July 2020.

On 5 November 2020, the Chancellor announced that both the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and the Self-employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) would be extended for a further 6 months. This provided employees and self-employed individuals (who submitted a tax return on 2018/19) with additional financial support until March 2021. However, while the eligibility criteria for the CJRS was opened up to allow staff employed before 30 October 2020 to be eligible for furlough, the SEISS eligibility remained unchanged excluding many of more recent self-employed individuals.


This fund was unique to Scotland and not available in the rest of the UK. It was launched to provide support to businesses impacted by Covid- 19 and to address gaps in UK Government support. This was specifically designed to reach and provide financial support to those who had fallen through these gaps, and so the eligibility criteria was as open and flexible as possible to maximise the number of successful applicants. To be eligible for the Newly Self-Employed Hardship Fund, applicants had to demonstrate that they:

(i) Became self-employed on or after 6 April 2019 but before 17 March 2020 (and were therefore ineligible for the UK Government’s Self Employment Income Support Scheme because they did not submit a tax return including income from self-employment for 2018-19).


(ii) Became self-employed between 1 October 2018 and 6 April 2019 but were ineligible for the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) because they were not self-employed for a sufficient period of time in the 2018-19 Financial Year to demonstrate that they derived 50% of their income from self-employment.

The NSHF was operated by UMi on behalf of the Scottish Government. It opened to applications on 16 February 2021 and closed on 23 March 2021. Eligible applicants were able to apply and receive one payment of £4,000 to alleviate hardship. On completion of the fund, more than 8,000 awards totalling £34.6 million had been made to a range of businesses

External stakeholders SE and SLAED were also involved to assist applicants with any issues they may have while applying for this funds. Help was available online and via a dedicated phone service that was set up.

Executive Summary:

The Scottish Government considered from the start of the pandemic whether the lockdown provisions were consistent with the Equality Act 2010 and also considered whether the provisions could constitute indirect discrimination.

The Scottish Government understands the impact COVID-19 has had on businesses, which is why £4.5 billion has been provided to business support.

In order to address the needs of many sectors adversely impacted by the pandemic, a range of business support funds were introduced over several months to provide emergency funding to help secure jobs, safeguard businesses and to alleviate hardship.

Within this context, there has been limited opportunity to gather evidence on the possible impacts of these measures. However, given the importance of assessing the impact on each of the protected characteristics, the Scottish Government has considered the measures against the needs of the general equality duty as set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation, advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not, and foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not. The Scottish Government has also considered whether the measures could constitute direct and/or indirect discrimination.

In many cases, the provisions have applied to all persons irrespective of protected characteristic, although it is acknowledged that the same provision may not have equal impacts.

These funds recognised the ongoing financial hardship that many self-employed people experienced by virtue of being excluded from the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

We are also mindful that the equality duty is not just about negating or mitigating negative impacts, as we also have a positive duty to promote equality. We have sought to do this through provisions contained in the measures or by support and guidance available.

Key Findings - impact assessment of benefits and/or disadvantages.

This emergency funding has supported otherwise strong and viable businesses, protecting the business base, jobs and livelihoods of people across the range of protected characteristics, many of whom have been disproportionately affected by COVID 19.

It is worth noting that these funds were directed towards applicants who became self-employed on or after 6 April 2019 and were ineligible for the Self Employment Income Support Scheme. Applicants in this category were therefore considered, for the purposes of the fund, to be “newly self-employed”. Unfortunately, there is no data, in respect to equalities characteristics, available for this specific category/group. As such, this assessment has been considered using available data specific to people who are self-employed.

Age: Older People and Children and Young People

In 2018 those aged 65 and over made up the smallest share of all those self-employed (10.3%). However, those aged 65 and over had the highest self-employment rate compared to other age groups: In 2018, 37.4% of those aged 65 and over in employment were self-employed compared to an overall self-employment rate of 12.2% for Scotland as a whole.

The self-employment rate was lowest among those aged 16-24 (6.1%)[35]. As such there is potential for the fund to disproportionately have a positive impact to older people.

Sex: Men and Women

According to the Annual Population Survey, in 2018 321,300 people were Self Employed in Scotland. Men equated to 68% and woman the remaining 32%. As such, the fund holds potential to disproportionately impact men more that women.


There is no evidence of a differential impact identified at this time.


In 2019 the self-employment rate for disabled people (13.4%) was higher than for non-disabled people (11.7%).[36] this indicates there is potential for a marginally different positive impact to disabled groups via this fund.

Religion and Belief

There is no evidence of a differential impact identified at this time.

Sexual Orientation

There is no evidence of a differential impact identified at this time.

Pregnancy and maternity

There is no evidence of a differential impact identified at this time.

Gender reassignment

There is no evidence of a differential impact identified at this time.

Marriage or Civil Partnership

There is no evidence of a differential impact identified at this time.

Socio-economic disadvantage: any people experiencing poverty

Due to self-employment covering a wide range of sectors it is difficult to acquire socio-economic data on it as a whole. Below is data from a sector found within self-employment.

A third (33.8%) of the workforce of the close contact services sector are self-employed, higher than the Scottish average of 12.4%.[37] Closure of mobile close contact services will have a higher than average impact on those that are self-employed, who may already be economically disadvantaged through low levels of pay. The take-up rate of the UK Government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) for the other service activities sector in Scotland was 78% as at 30 September 2020.

The National Hair and Beauty Federation Industry Data booklet 2019 reports the average annual salary of Hairdressers and barbers was £17,609 and the average annual salary of beauticians of £17,178. Whilst not representative of all services provided under the broader close contact services categorisation, these salaries fare significantly lower than the weekly rate of £428.80 which is the Median Gross Weekly Public Sector Earnings for Scotland in 2018.[38]

The Scottish Government’s Monthly GDP statistics for August 2020[39] shows the close contact services sector as 34.2% lower compared to August 2019 and 10.0% lower for the economy overall.

As previously stated, the Scottish Government’s Monthly GDP statistics for August 2020 shows a year on year contraction of the close contact services sector between 2019 and 2020 (34.2% lower in August compared to August 2019) and 10.0% lower for the economy overall.

These statistics show that, within the groups identified, there is potential for a disproportionate impact to those on lower salaries, and therefore this fund is likely to positively impact these groups.

Stakeholder Engagement:

The Scottish Government has engaged extensively with businesses and their representative organisations since March 2020 and has regular meaningful engagement with business leaders on a range of priority issues, including economic recovery and business support.

During the 16 month period from March 2020 to July 2021 over 1,270 engagements took place, and a regular programme of engagement continues, including with CBI, FSB, IoD, Scottish Chambers of Commerce, SCDI, Scottish Financial Enterprise, Scottish Retail Consortium, Scottish Tourism Alliance and Scotland Food and Drink.

This provided an opportunity to listen to stakeholder views, test ideas, share information about progress and discuss and address specific issues identified by sectors and individual businesses.

The NSEHF (1) was co-designed with local authorities and COSLA. Involving local authorities in the design helped bring them on board and work successfully as the delivery partner.

Management information on the Funds continues to be published on the Scottish Government website.[40]


NSEHF Fund (1)

The closure report stated that users, customers and other stakeholders were satisfied with the outcomes. Positive feedback was received from applicants, local authorities and other stakeholders on the effectiveness of funding and its delivery to new vulnerable businesses and that the assistance helped them to survive.

Using the Local Authority network to manage and administer the NSEHF was vital in reaching all parts of Scotland and ensured that this resource was mobilised to deliver this project effectively. The Project Plan ensured the successful delivery of the project with few issues encountered during the active phase of the project, except a long tail of late stage approvals in a small number of local authorities running into August. The co-design of the scheme elements was really successful as the local authorities had insight into the practical elements, benefit processes and deliverability.


A fully assisted application process was put in place, whereby an UMi assessor could take the details and submit an application on behalf of an applicant if they were unable to complete an application themselves. This solution was built to assist those user groups that may have had visual/disability challenges in being able to apply online to the fund.

An appeals process was introduced to ensure that there were sufficient routes to challenge decisions and have applications reviewed by a separate team. This was undertaken by the Scottish Government’s Covid Income Support Team. A one to one telephone service was introduced to help applicants discuss their application with an assessor.

Dedicated mailboxes were established to handle the large volume of enquiries from applicants, MSPs, MPs and other stakeholders to enhance accessibility. These mailboxes received over 1,000 enquiries. The mailboxes continued to be monitored after the fund closed with an automatic message signposting an alternative means of Scottish Government contact.

A phone helpline was also set up by SE to aid applicants with the application process. This helped negate some accessibility issues and provided applicants a chance to speak to someone directly about any issues or problems they were having with applying for funding.

The Scottish Government recognised that there were a wide range of businesses impacted by restrictions in this category who did not meet the eligibility criteria for the Wedding Industry Fund, and as such who were not eligible for financial support through this fund.

The Scottish Government set up a number of other grant support schemes for the purposes of ensuring that those experiencing financial hardship, as a result of Covid-19 receive appropriate support.

This included, but not limited to: the Strategic Framework Business Fund, specific schemes for taxi and private hire vehicle drivers, accommodation providers, as well as the Local Authority Discretionary Fund which identified businesses that operate from closed or restricted sectors those that rely on entering domestic premises and those in the supply chain of closed or restricted sectors as types of business that local authorities should consider supporting.

Next Steps (if any)

Where any unintended negative impacts have been identified, we will seek to mitigate/eliminate these by setting out areas which should be subject to further consideration during the development of possible future business support funds. The findings of this EQIA will help to aid the design and introduction of possible future schemes, should resources become available.

Declaration and Publication

I have read the Equality Impact Assessment and I am satisfied that it represents a fair and reasonable view of the expected equality impact of the measures implemented.

Signed: Joe Brown

Date: 1 March 2022



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