Are freelance designers still eligible for payment if they are affected by the coronavirus
The possibility of the UK’s workforce being put on lockdown as coronavirus continues its looming over the country is increasing.
In last week’s Budget, chancellor Rishi Sunak assured that the country would be well prepared, and the workforce well remunerated, should this be the case. Sunak announced that the government would pay eligible firms their sick pay for two weeks. In addition, the government would provide emergency cash loans up to PS3,000 to SMEs who have been financially impacted by the outbreak.
Although this is a significant step towards mitigating the effects of the pandemic upon businesses, it will not be enough to save everyone. UK freelancers and self-employed workers are not receiving as much financial reassurance. And what promises have been made has not been communicated in the most clear terms.
What sick pay rights have freelance and self-employed designers?
Unfortunately, there are not many.
Julia Kermode (Chairwoman of the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association) stated that contractors and freelancers have very few rights regarding sick pay. “The government must balance business as usual and public health. They announced a few reassurances last Wednesday, but they are not applicable to employees.”
Self-employed and freelance workers should apply for Employment and Support Allowance, and, more recently, Universal Credit, in times of financial hardship and/or sickness. If they are financially able, workers can also choose to insure themselves with income protection insurance.
What has the government done to help me in my time of need?
People who don’t have statutory sick pay can find it daunting to think about the possibility of falling ill at any time of year.
The coronavirus pandemic is exacerbated by the fact that workers don’t have to be sick in order to be fired. To stop the spread of the virus, many companies and governments are taking preventive measures to close down their workplaces.
Although not as significant as the contingency plan for employees’, the government announced last week that ESA and Universal Credit would be easier to access for people who are unable to work due to social distancing/quarantine
- The “New Style” ESA will be available to self-employed people with a disability or other health condition (including coronavirus), that limits their ability to work.
- ESA can be claimed starting on the first day of sickness instead of the usual eight days.
- People who claim ESA no longer have to attend face-to-face meetings at Jobcentres.
- To be eligible for the “New Style” ESA you must have been self-employed, and have paid enough National Insurance Contributions in the past two to three year.
- Read more and apply for it here.
- Temporarily suspended is the Minimum Income Floor (MIF), for those “directly affected” by COVID-19, or who are self-isolating as per government advice.
- People claiming Universal Credit no longer have to attend face-to-face meetings at Jobcentres. Instead, you can receive up to a month’s advance and not have to attend a Jobcentre.
- A doctor’s note is not required. The Fit Note will be used instead. The government’s Universal Credit website says an NHS 111 Online Fit Note service is “currently under development and will be available soon”.
- Read more and apply for it here.
The government encourages self-employed workers and freelancers to apply for both welfare types, which may in some cases be granted simultaneously.
Are these enough measures?
Many worker advocacy groups and design industry bodies don’t like the current measures.
“The government has made some improvements to the welfare system in order to make it easier for you access, but we are talking really low amounts of income here really,” Alasdair HUTCHISON, policy development manager at the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, says.
Hutchison claims that IPSE is concerned that the complexity of accessing the welfare program will make it difficult for freelancers and self-employed to “get lost” among the many contingency plans.
He says that there is no distinction between personal and business finances when it comes to self-employed and freelancers. IPSE has called for a mitigation fund that is available to self-employed workers and freelancers to help with the loss of income. It’s not business expenses people are concerned about. It’s the basic necessities like food and rent.
A spokesperson for the Designers and Cultural Workers branch of the United Voices of the World union (UVW–DCW) informed Design Week that the organization was supporting a Pandemic Basic Income from the government, as well as a rent freeze in both studio and housing spaces.
The spokesperson stated that the government faces a double problem with the current measures in place. “Self-employed workers are more inclined to continue working, putting their health and the health of others at risk.”
“If we become disabled or become ill due to closures, we get little to no pay, rights, or protections.”
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has written to Boris Johnson in an appeal for more attention to the self-employed as well as low-wage workers. This is in light of the pandemic.
What has been the experience of other countries?
The UK is not the only country that will have to deal the business-related consequences of the global coronavirus epidemic.
- Ireland: All employees or self-employed workers who have been affected by the coronavirus can apply for a Pandemic Unemployment payment. This payment is currently available for up to six weeks at a flat rate EUR203 per week.
- Norway: A crisis package was agreed. It provides temporary income protection for self-employed workers and freelancers equal to 80% of the average salary over the last three years. This is effective from day 17, after income loss. Temporarily laid-off workers will receive full pay.
- New Zealand: Self-employed can receive a weekly wage subsidy of up to $585 for up to 12 consecutive weeks. Additional provisions include financial support payments to those who are unable to work due to coronavirus.
What can I do to help?
You can do a lot to reduce the impact of coronavirus on freelance or self-employed designers.
The Design Business Association (DBA) is holding a free coronavirus webinar on 20 March that is open to all designers. Adam Fennelow, head of services at DBA, tells Design Week that “we feel we should do something for the entire sector and not just our members” – we want people to prepare for the worst knowing that it will never get there.
Kermode also stresses the importance of having open and honest discussions with clients about alternative work arrangements.
She says that freelancers cannot override the client’s wishes. If the office is closed, it is closed.” It is important to start a conversation about whether you can continue work from home and bill for it.
Hutchison agrees. He suggests that clients “engaging early” could include the suggestion of working remotely, but also that freelancers might be able to get at least some cash now rather than waiting for a six-month payment.
Hutchison also says that it is important to remember the effects of these changes beyond just financial.
He says, “This will be a huge problem for people’s psychological health over the next couple of months.” “I cannot stress enough how important it’s to stay in touch with freelancers and make sure that you know that you’re all in this together.”
IPSE has Freelance Corner on social media, and the UVW DCW invites those who have been affected by coronavirus to share with them their experiences to highlight the extent of the problem.
Hutchison concludes: “As the situation progresses, we’ll have a better understanding of how to and what needs to be done. But even now, I’m certain that supporting one another will be a key component of this.”