I want to tell you about a couple of people I know and how the coronavirus has affected them, and believe me: what they’re going through is being replicated hundreds of thousands of times across the country – millions of times in fact. They are the people the Government’s crisis plan has left behind. Action will have to be taken this week.

The first of them is Gillian Cleminson. She works for herself as a hairdresser and runs a small business in Glasgow, Pin-Up Hair, which caters for weddings and private clients. She earns a decent living and has been doing well. But then the virus hit. Virtually every wedding due in the next four or five weeks has been cancelled, which means Gillian’s income has collapsed. Every penny of April’s money is gone and who knows what will happen in the months after that.

I called Gillian and asked her how she, her husband, and their three children have been coping and she told me she’s been suffering from anxiety and was “not in a good place” earlier in the week. She said she’s applied for a mortgage break, she’s going to use the tax deferral offered to the self-employed, and she’s applying for universal credit, although she’s no idea if, or when, she’ll get it. And the point is that, even if it works, she’ll still be on a fraction of her usual income. She may not be able to pay the bills.

Natalie Righetti is in a similar position. Natalie is a self-employed pilates instructor and runs a small business, Vita Sana Pilates, in Clarkston. Her entire business is built on face-to-face contact, which means she was forced to suspend all her classes last week because of the virus. And, like Gillian, it’s meant Natalie has gone from a full-time income to zero overnight.

Natalie says the sudden loss of her usual business has been deeply upsetting. She’s felt a bit lost in the last few days, she says, going from having a business she built up herself to nothing. What’s helped is the kindness of her clients – some have offered to pay the usual fee regardless or made donations, and she’s working on plans to hold classes online. But her income is still a huge worry. She phoned her bank the other day to ask about a mortgage holiday and they told her to phone back in a month.

I worry about what’s going to happen next for Gillian and Natalie, but what’s also worrying is that their situation can be multiplied millions of times. The wedding industry is almost entirely made up of self-employed people: hairdressers, florists, make-up artists, and so on. Natalie also tells me many of her clients are self-employed themselves and have been texting her to tell her their businesses have gone under. It’s hard to tell exactly how many this is affecting, but around five million people in the UK are self-employed.

The measures announced by the Government will help a bit: the tax deferrals, the mortgage breaks, and the changes to universal credit to make it more accessible to the self-employed. But the big headline announcement that 80 per cent of the wages of employees who aren’t able to work will be paid by the state does not apply to people who work for themselves. It means an employee on 30k will get around £2,500 a month from the Government, while a self-employed person will only get a small proportion of that.

This cannot be fair, and I’m particularly dismayed that it’s a Conservative government that’s allowing it to happen. In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher offered state support to small businesses through the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, and it worked: more than 300,000 more people went self-employed with the help of the scheme. It was also entirely consistent with Tory philosophy: it was about offering state support to encourage entrepreneurship and thereby reduce the need for state support in the future.

And yet, 40 years on, we have a Tory government that appears to be doing the opposite, albeit in a crisis situation. The cash support for employees is extremely welcome, but the relative lack of support for the self-employed risks crushing businesses that are just getting going and discouraging others who might be thinking of starting one in the future. And what’s worse: it’s unfair. Work for a company? You might be OK. Set up your own? You’re in trouble.

I think it’s obvious that the disparity is going to have to be fixed and it’s going to have to be fixed this week. There may be some Tories who will balk at yet more public spending, but if Margaret Thatcher could offer financial help to the self-employed at the height of 80s free-market politics, why on earth can’t Boris Johnson do the same during this extraordinary expansion of state spending? The Government has already said it will provide a financial floor to support people, so don’t let some people fall through the cracks in it.

Obviously, a scheme offering support to the self-employed won’t be as straightforward as offering 80% of employees’ wages, but I think ways could be found. People who’ve been self-employed for a while, for example, could be offered 80% of their average pay over the last couple of years, up to the maximum of £2,500 a month. As for people who’ve gone freelance more recently, like Natalie Righetti, they could be offered 80% of the average earnings of the self-employed, again up to the £2,500 maximum.

Both Natalie and Gillian say any help would be welcome. A few weeks ago, their businesses were doing really well – thriving actually. But then an invisible virus started spreading from human to human and now it’s spreading through the economic ecosystem of the UK and it has to be treated there as surely as it has to be treated in the bodies of its victims.

The extraordinary measures that the Government have already announced will help. The Prime Minister also says he’s confident we can get on top of the outbreak in three months if everyone does their bit. Gillian and Natalie and other people like them already are. The Government’s responsibility now is to return the favour and do its bit for them. Announce help for the self-employed on the same scale as the help for the employed. And do it this week.