April 20, 2021

Freelancers in lockdown, a year in review

Written by Martin Baxter

There were celebrations this week as beer gardens filled, shoppers queued, and lockdown locks were chopped. It’s now been over a year since the first lockdown started, and we know it’s been hard for freelancers. Aside from the pain of being separated from our friends and families, the boredom of being stuck at home, we’ve also had to wrestle with the stress of trying to keep our businesses going in uncertain and tough economic times. Over twelve months and three lockdowns later, it’s hard to believe, but the end might finally be in sight. This week, the NHS has met its target of offering all over 50s the vaccine, and the take up has been somewhere around 95%, meaning that the groups most vulnerable to COVID-19 now have some level of protection. So, while we’re feeling cautiously optimistic, we thought we’d take a look back at a year of freelancers in lockdown and see how far we’ve come and what we’ve learnt along the way.

March 2020: Lockdown starts

We all sat stunned (some of us in fortresses made of toilet paper), as we watched Boris announce the news that we knew was coming, but somehow still couldn’t quite believe: lockdown, stay at home, you must not leave your house unless it’s for one of four essential reasons. It’s fair to say that there was panic in all quarters at this stage, and it was a few days later that an actual, proper support scheme for self-employed people was announced. As you can see from our blog at the time, it was a period of confusion, where policies were announced, retracted and rejigged as the government sought to find a workable solution. Even so, there were still people left out of the schemes – an estimated 3 million taxpayers according to Excluded UK.

Some of us were seasoned WFH experts already, but for those that weren’t, it was a whole new learning curve of remote working systems, video calls and “smart on the top, pyjamas on the bottom” dressing. We put together tips from all over the web to help freelancers adjust. Sales of loungewear, desks and plants boomed as people set-up their new home offices. In our spare time, we bought ALL THE FLOUR in the quest for the perfect sourdough and splashed out on fancy cocktail glasses for our Zoom pub sessions.

Fun in the sun

It’s easy to forget, but most of the country had relaxations to the rules over the summer months. While other people tried to squeeze in a holiday and make the most of Eat Out to Help Out, many freelancers spent the summer trying to pick work up again to make up for the lockdown slump. On our blog, we gave some tips on winning clients, which are still relevant today as we once again head into a summer of looser restrictions.

Back to school (and lockdown two!)

In September, freelancing parents waved their kids back off to school and engaged in some truly atrocious kitchen dancing as they celebrated the end of homeschooling. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before COVID cases spiked again, and in November we entered into Lockdown II (though, mercifully, schools were allowed to stay open through this one). After a year of being overlooked, downtrodden and struggling to make ends meet, freelance creatives were met with a rather controversial government ad encouraging ‘Fatima’ to retrain from a ballet dancer to a career in cyber. Many thought the government’s attitude to creative careers was passé, and Dinghy immediately sprang to the defence of all our wonderful dancers, actors, artists, photographers, designers and writers on our blog.

The impact of coronavirus on freelancers started to become worryingly apparent. Statistics from the ONS and ISPE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) showed that unfortunately, but perhaps unsurprisingly, freelancer numbers fell in 2020. In fact, a staggering quarter of a million self-employed people became economically inactive in 2020. We looked at why, despite the uncertainty and occasional hardship, we think that being a freelancer is still well worth the risk.

Winter is coming…

We were all looking forward to a break in the COVID regulations for Christmas so that we could spend time with friends and family, but we must have been on the naughty list this year, because Christmas was cancelled with just days to go. Soon after, we were plunged into a third period of lockdown, which looked set to last a few months as the NHS battled new variants and the winter surge typical of respiratory illnesses. We all hunkered down at home once again. The only consolation we had was watching the steadily rising numbers of vaccinations with the hope that maybe, just maybe, there was finally a way out of all this. Towards the end of February, Bojo announced the new lockdown roadmap, with the plan set out to lift all restrictions by 21st June. With some big summer staples like Glastonbury already cancelled and no date yet for foreign holidays to resume, it might not be business as usual, but we’re certainly headed in the right direction. While people took to internet shopping to plan their 21st June outfits, freelancers strategized about how to make the most of the opportunities that reopening should give, while also remaining flexible in the event that things don’t quite go to plan. Eagle-eyed freelancers will have noticed that the Spring Budget, announced just days after the roadmap, made provisions for 4th and 5th rounds of the SEISS (Self-Employment Income Support Scheme) grants. This extends the financial support for businesses affected by the pandemic until at least September, a sign that perhaps we can expect some ongoing impacts and restrictions throughout the summer.

Ready, set, go!

Are you all set for reopening? Once you’ve sorted your barnet out, re-signed up to the gym, and picked up the perfect “pub garden coat”, make sure you get your business ready too. For more tips, have a look at our recent blog on how freelancers can get ready for lockdown ending. One key thing is making sure that you’ve got business insurance ready to go. If you’re already a Dinghy customer but have taken advantage of our unique flexible features and paused your policy during lockdown, make sure you switch it back on if you’re heading back to work.

About Martin Baxter

Read more blog posts by Martin Baxter


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