Freelancers have been hard hit by Covid, even if they have a ‘portfolio career’ to get greater flexibility and freelancing part of their work is not their main job.
Freelancers have been struggling more than many during the pandemic, with many missing out on government support. The Chancellor has said that the situation is not as bad as is made out because many are freelancing on the side of other work. This may be true, but why are they doing this? Is it to build up ‘side hustles’ so they can leave their jobs or is it because their work doesn’t pay them enough to live or a mix of both?
The UK’s employment situation is hugely complex and has become more so over recent years as people have sought to boost their earnings through doing extra work on the side, often of full-time work, whether that is freelance, zero hours or some other permutation. The bald statistics don’t tell the full story of the complexity of people’s working lives.
For parents, putting together a patchwork of jobs and topping it off with freelance work that can be done outside normal working hours is one way of getting flexibility. I know because I have done it for many years, marrying lower paid part-time work [often more than one part-time position] with freelance work to increase my income. It’s exhausting. I’ve never worked as hard and it can be very difficult when all the jobs are busy at the same time and you don’t, of course, get any holidays with freelance or self employed work, unless you can afford to turn it down. On the other hand, you get to pick up your kids from school and avoid expensive after school clubs [where I live], you can go to school events [and make up the time working into the small hours], you can be around in the holidays so they don’t have to go to holiday clubs all the time and, while you are constantly busy, depending on your work, the ideas from one job can provoke innovation in another – plus you never get bored.
For me, that has been a fair swap. I could have gone for a full-time job in the office with more pay and, of course, now there are more jobs where you can work part of the week from home [and hopefully will be even more in the future]. Like all of us, I am of my time and those opportunities weren’t available. If I had it all to do again I would have made the same choices, mainly because I couldn’t bring myself to force my daughter into holiday clubs that she hated. Every child is different, but I wouldn’t have missed any of the times I have had with her and especially not now when that time has been so cruelly taken away.
But implying that freelancing earnings are not important because people have other jobs that are their ‘main’ job is to ignore the reality of people’s lives and the difficult decisions they have to take. I, of course, had a choice. For many there is no choice. We have known for some time that many people on tax credits are working parents and that many were just one accident or repair bill away from financial disaster. That was before the pandemic. That extra money on the side is not peripheral in many cases. It is a life line.