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Freelancing and Coronavirus

Coronavirus has taken us all by surprise. As I said in my very first blog post, it’s thrown us all into chaos and brought the world to a complete stand-still. Whilst the loss of life is undoubtedly the most devastating aspect of the disaster, nobody can deny that the effect on the economy and business has also been a big part of the story. Indeed, a broken economy also brings with it its own death toll, both in terms of actual lives and the collapse of people’s businesses.

In the UK, the government’s response to the crisis has been gradual, slow even, but the economic support has been better than most expected. Actions that are nothing short of those seen during times of war, the government has promised to guarantee the wages of all British employees to the tune of 80%, relieving the stress of millions who now face weeks and months of potentially no work and uncertainty. But the key word there is employees.

As somebody who has been a self employed freelancer for the best part of 10 years – paying taxes through self assessment much like those on PAYE – I’m now faced with the possibility of having to face the downturn in the economy all by myself. I’m lucky; having managed to put aside money for a rainy day my business and I will be able to get through this period – spending my hard-earned savings whilst the government subsidises employees – but others won’t be so lucky. The freelance game can be unpredictable and a lonely business – there’s no paid holiday, no paid sick leave and a steady monthly income doesn’t come as standard.

This opens up big questions for the sector. As the number of freelancers, sole traders, self employed, those on zero hours contracts or in the gig economy increases, so does the number of people with less security to fall back on. It’s quickly becoming clear that the rule book will need to be rewritten and more sustainable practices put in place.

UPDATE: Since publishing, the government has announced a similar package for the self-employed, covering 80% of income, up to £2,500 a month. However, there are caveats, and it will only apply to those making up to £50k a year in profits – a cliff-edge threshold in which anybody earning above that will get nothing at all.

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