The impact of Covid-19

Like most freelancers, I’ve been hit very hard by the coronavirus pandemic. This isn’t a “poor me” moan session though – at the end of the day it is what it is, there’s nothing I can do about it so I’ll be worrying that my loved ones and friends stay well, following all the guidance and spending the time learning some new skills, getting some of my admin done and of course staying safe. Social distancing from the biscuit tin seems to be presenting a bit of a challenge at the moment though. I never blog about anything apart from my videography or photography work and so those posts about events, commercial photography, product and food photography in Shropshire and Staffordshire will be a bit scarce for a while but I felt compelled to write this.

When the UK government announced that they’d be giving some help to the self employed I have to say it felt like an afterthought – and the way it’s being implemented is a big mistake. Having to wait nearly three months until June for some assistance while PAYE people have immediate continuity of their salaries just seems very unfair – along with the veiled threat from the chancellor (in the middle of a pandemic) that the tax system would have to change as a result. And the package most certainly isn’t what it seems. Being paid 80% of profit may sound ok, but remember that businesses need equipment to be purchased and replaced. That investment affects the bottom line profit, in some cases quite significantly. I think that the reason the chancellor decided to average out self employed income over a three year period was to effectively reduce the amount that would be paid, because in many cases self employed businesses will make a big investment every three to five years. They need to stay competitive and technology moves on quickly.

On top of having their income cut off, many self employed people have seen clients in similar circumstances unable to pay outstanding bills, leaving a big gap in expected income. And one more thing that a lot of people don’t seem to realise is that self employed people pay their tax in advance. So for example when I filed my tax return last year I also had to pay tax on the first six months of this year. That’s tax I’ve paid in advance based on an income that simply won’t appear. I haven’t seen anything from HMRC offering to return it to me. In fact I haven’t seen anything from HMRC at all.

What really surprised me though was reading through some of the comments from the public on the BBC website. There seems to be a very strong and unkind undercurrent that the self employed don;t deserve anything because they’re all fiddling their tax and also what felt like an emphasis on putting the self employed into a category of manual or menial labour. Strange views and I have to say disappointing that in such a desperate situation people think it’s perfectly ok to make sweeping, unfounded and frankly ignorant observations about an area that they simply don’t understand.

What these people perhaps don’t realise is that a significant sector of self employed people make up a staggering percentage of the workforce who bring high quality visual media to people. So that’s film crew, lighting technicians, post production, script writers, editors, graphic designers and (of course) photographers. In many cases companies turn to freelancers for jobs rather than employing them permanently. They’re often hired with their kit as well as their skills and if these people are unable to survive with no income, it’s very likely that many will turn to a more regular job to pay the bills, sell their equipment and call it a day. It’s a turbulent enough time as a freelance under normal circumstances, let alone this and the end result is that the entertainment industry will potentially lose a lot of talent. It’s a little ironic that the very people who produce the media that everyone is consuming during a lockdown are the last ones on the list when it comes to people understanding their predicament, let alone actually helping them with a support system that’s equivalent to what others are getting.

I certainly won’t be closing my own business down and I expect to be back when the restrictions are lifted. In the meantime stay safe, do whatever you can to support our fantastic NHS and please follow the advice. I’ll look forward to getting back to doing what I love when it’s safe to do so.

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