FOR many of the 17 million people who own or work in a smaller business across the UK, the past few months have been the toughest they can remember.

In Worcestershire, many have faced the double-whammy of disruption from flooding prior to the CV-19 outbreak.

The consequences of such unprecedented events are now becoming clear. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the number of claimants of Jobseeker's Allowance and Universal Credit rose to 2.8 million in May. This is more than double the number seen in the same month last year.

Recent history shows us that in these circumstances, many people secure new employment in small businesses or by setting up in business themselves. For example, following the financial crisis of 2007-8, nine in 10 people re-joined the workforce through these routes. It is therefore vitally important that support is available to help people who choose these paths.

For example, small businesses should be encouraged and helped to take on new staff. The fact that four in ten cite labour costs as a primary barrier to business growth means that urgent action is needed in this area. A reduction in Employer’s National Insurance Contributions (NIC), further uprating of the targeted Employment Allowance and the widening of NICs holidays, would be good places to start.

Apprenticeships are another area where small businesses contribute a huge amount. In fact, more than nine out of ten apprenticeships offered by small firms are held by 16 to 24-year-olds. If apprenticeships for young people are to play a fundamental role in our return to prosperity and growth, small businesses need more assistance with the time, paperwork and money that goes into training this workforce of the future.

These are just a few examples of where the high cost of employing people needs to be addressed. Failure to do so will result in higher levels of unemployment, lower levels of business growth and a protracted recovery for our local and national economies.