Updated: Jun 6, 2020
The creative, resilient and energetic minds of freelancers have long been providing a boost to the UK's economic sectors - notably the media and creative industries - making up a significant portion of business operations - and it's time for decision makers those who have the luxury of 'playing it safe' to be decisive and take on some of the risk.
Just because our strengths - a focus on output over time, the ability to build and maintain relationships quickly, cracking on to 'get the job done' and sourcing new work at short notice - mean that the way in which we work is flexible - it does not mean our value is reduced in the power dynamic of the current relationship we have with employers, engagers and the state.
Believe it or not - I'm sure I'm not the only freelancer to say that freelancing chose me - I didn't choose it. My personal strengths - creativity, writing and passion for the news agenda and building relationships over a short space of time - aren't compatible with doing the same thing day in day out with the same people in the same room. From experiences in my early career it can be stifling and unproductive - especially when office politics takes over because everyone has run out of ideas.
I identified I can add the most value to work across projects -making a commitment to learn new skills, build new contacts and generate better ideas as a result. Many non-freelancers are now realising they need to adapt more - work on a project basis, and now being forced to work from home - maybe you could learn a thing or two from how we've been working all along?
I've worked in many places where the creative energy and consistent stream of ideas from freelancers is valued when projects have stalled, or need new energy - and ultimately - results. So why then, has the covid-19 crisis revealed what some freelancers may have feared for a long time - there is a power dynamic at play and we are on the losing team?
Whether we are available at short notice to plug gaps in projects, or leading from the helm, our invaluable adaptability seems to dissolve into nothing, and it is not good enough to say we should carry this level of risk - as has been the case with the state's response to freelancers during covid-19. It's funny how our perceived strengths are used as the stick to beat us with when things go wrong.
Many freelancers flitter between PAYE, sole trader, umbrella, LTD companies - all coming with extra costs and deductions - some at the source of the paycheck - leaving them with no buffer whatsoever and in light of the current situation - for some - the inability to claim self employed support or employee furlough. It's been a nightmare for many and this will continue.
There needs to be a complete re-set.
After this crisis, freelancers will bounce back with their in-built resilience using their brilliant skills that have been callously undervalued, and undoubtedly, until there is state recognition for a freelance status (for all freelancers - which means none of this sole trader/PSC nonsense, with transparent taxation and National Insurance with some forms of protections built in by mandatory insurance or via the NI system) - those who do not show the respect and good will to the freelance workforce will be deemed less attractive to work for.
Luckily, unions like Bectu (who have a new media branch), the GMB and NUJ recognise the contributions and value of freelancers alongside the injustices they face each day (nevermind during a global pandemic). For anyone seeking advice, check their social media and get in touch with them. I'd also recommend getting fellow freelancers on a Whatsapp group for solidarity, to share experiences and get a sense of how your experience compares to others, with a view to seeking more advice.
Thank you to Bectu official Sean Kelly for providing insights for this blog.