Skip to main content

Self-employment stories

26 March 2020

By Ian Silvera

You can’t help being jealous of those who work for themselves. As their own bosses (and dogs’ bodies) they set their own hours, can have endless tea breaks and wear what they like to the office/their front room. That is of course in normal times, times when the world isn’t facing a global health crisis. Now wearing an old, tattered rugby top, shabby jeans and trying out rogue recipes in the kitchen at lunchtime is the preserve of the work-from-home classes – nearly everyone.

Unfortunately, and until today, the self-employed have been left in the dark about the future. The economy has almost shutdown, they’ve been forced indoors and a whole heap of uncertainty has entered their life. The Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement of a support package, following in the footsteps of Denmark and Norway, will therefore offer some much-needed relief to the five million or so people in self-employment, which make up around 15% of the country’s labour market.  

Those are big figures, almost too big to appreciate how the Covid-19 crisis has truly impacted the lives of the self-employed. With that in mind, and to give a more human flavour of our changing times, we have reached out to our friends and family to tell their stories.

Alistair Charlton, 30, a freelance journalist based in London

A publisher I provide daily work for is to stop all freelance commissions from May until the pandemic has passed. Thankfully, an editor rushed through my commission for April before the deadline, so my pay won’t be affected until June.

The vast majority of my work is now with one client, which is naturally a concern. But my spirits were raised this week by a new client who offered me a quick magazine commission and said they are trying to prioritise freelancers for their next issue, given the uncertainty the self-employed currently face.

Mick Silvera, 63, a self-employed painter and decorator based in Coventry

We had work lined-up for some weeks to come, but obviously the Covid-19 crisis has thrown that into doubt. Unlike other trades or professions, I can’t work from home and that means I’ve introduced extra health and safety measures on the job, including wearing gloves and keeping a safe distance from the client. 

The good weather is a blessing, in that I’m now able to work outside away from anybody. However, I know this won’t last and the papers are talking of a forthcoming recession, which, like in 2008, will have an impact on all of us.

Jean, 41, a freelance jewellery designer based in London

With more than 15 years in my line of work, I have never experienced anything like what we are all going through at the moment. All work has come to a full stop. The worrying part for most of us is the uncertainty of how long this is going to last.

After seeing the large number people applying for universal credit or job seeker allowance and the lack of capacity for the government to deal with such large influx of applications, any help given to freelancers is likely to be met in the same circumstances, with massive delays in receiving support for those who need it the most.

Ollie Sears, 27, a freelance musician based in London

In the world of the freelance music, your schedule only exists for the next few months. This schedule has been wiped clear with no income booked until September, and even that is gradually disappearing.

As we don’t know how long this will last, nobody is booking anything new at this time either. Whenever this gets back to ‘normal’, the schedule will still take a while to build up as people tend to book functions several months in advance, leaving us without work for a substantial period of time still.

I’ve applied for one-off donations from incredible organisations like the Musicians Union and Music Minds Matter, but I don’t feel the government is doing enough. I’ve been attempting to schedule an online appointment for Universal Credit for the last three days, but this will only cover about half my rent and I won’t receive it until the beginning of May.

I appreciate how hard it is to get something like a relief package to the people in practice, but I feel like I’ve been left behind, something which the Chancellor, himself, mentioned in his speech today.

What we know about the self-employed income support scheme

  • Taxable grant worth up to 80% of a contractor’s average profits
  • Based upon last three years of work and will, at least, have to have a 2019 tax return
  • Will be limited at £2,500 per month
  • Capped for those with trading profits of more than £50,000 per year
  • Will cover 95% of people who are self-employed, the government has claimed
  • People may have to wait until June to access the scheme
  • Will be paid straight into bank accounts via HMRC