Gradual reopening of the economy sees thousands of freelance businesses return to pre-pandemic levels
Nearly a quarter (24%) of independent workers have said their freelance business has returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to research by self-employment trade body, IPSE.
The survey also revealed that almost a third (29%) of freelancers believe the further easing of lockdown restrictions on Monday (17 May) would boost their business, while a fifth (19%) said they had not been affected much at all by the pandemic.
The findings tally with IPSE’s recent Confidence Index, which found the average earnings of highly skilled freelancers had risen by 20 per cent in the last quarter – again back to pre-pandemic levels.
Of those whose businesses had not returned to these levels, the study found that one in five (19%) expect it to do so within the next six months.
Over half of freelancers still significantly affected by Covid
However, more than half of freelancers (57%) polled said their business was still significantly affected by Covid, with 40 per cent saying they fear it will take them over a year to recover.
According to the research, the ongoing toll on these businesses is likely to be compounded by other factors such as April’s IR35 reform and Brexit. In fact, 79 per cent cited the impact of IR35 reform as a key concern and more than a third (37%) said they were worried about Brexit.
Freelancers are still also worried about the continued effect of the pandemic on their business. Around half (51%) fear not being able to source work, 37 per cent are concerned about reduced demand for their services and 36 per cent are bracing themselves for a third wave of the virus.
Others reported being concerned about the level of on-site protection (17%), a quarter (24%) stated the health implications of the commute to the client as an issue and 20 per cent cited stress and their mental health as a worry.
Government told to focus on damage done to freelance sector
Andy Chamberlain, Director of Policy at IPSE, said: “This research shows that despite the remaining challenges, many freelancers are seeing a big boost to their businesses because of the roadmap and the opening up of the economy. Always at the leading edge of the economy, many freelancers are raring to go and ready to drive the recovery.
“It is not an entirely positive story, however, as there are still many freelancers whose businesses have not only not yet recovered – but are being held back and undermined by the changes to IR35. And, as we have seen in recent news, this has pressed many into working through as yet still drastically underregulated umbrella companies.
“To unleash the full economic potential of the sector, there is a clear need for government to look again at the damage done by the pandemic – particularly the issue of debt relief – and also the impact of the IR35 changes, and consult on a long-term plan for the future of the freelance sector.”