Due better policy, freelancers got thrown from covid to recession

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Still not totally recovered from covid but showing all the tenacity and qualities that got them – and their clients – through the pandemic.

That’s my takeaway of creative freelancers from both attending and judging the annual IPSE Freelancer Awards at London’s Barbican Centre late last month, writes Andy Chamberlain, director of policy at the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed.

FOMO? There’s always next year…

First, my commiserations if you missed out. We spotlighted freelancers in eight key categories, and tipped our hats to the organisations that do the most to support the self-employed.

And it was indeed unfortunately a case of ‘missing out’ if you’re reading this and weren’t in the room. Much like our freelancer awards last year, the 2022 event to showcase the achievements of the UK’s brightest and best freelancers was once again a roaring success. Not even the particularly dicey economy could get in the way of that one!

The covid hangover

But where covid has thankfully abated, albeit not entirely in terms of an adverse impact on the freelance workforce, there are new challenges. Government policy such as IR35 reform in the shape of the reinstated off-payroll rules certainly doesn’t help the owner-manager business sector get back to its feet from what I would call the ‘covid hangover.’ Bolt on the cost-of-living crisis, and it’s clear to see that there’s a squeeze on our tiniest traders.

Positively, each one of the 12 self-employed winners we commended have risen to these ongoing challenges. But I got the sense that it hasn’t been easy – not even for this dazzling dozen. There are still tough times ahead and as welcome as they were, the light-hearted gags brought to the event by our witty host, Paul Sinha, could not totally obscure that reality.

From frying pan to fire

It’s not hard to be sympathetic to one-person businesses. Bear in mind something I heard on the night. Many of the winners and finalists have come straight from helping other businesses through lockdowns and covid restrictions, only to emerge facing another difficult challenge – our current economy. Freelancers have done something great. They got their clients through a health and business crisis, but they now must cope with a mass of financial difficulties.

They’re not alone in facing trying circumstances. New to being a judge of their many achievements, I found that whittling the entries down to a shortlist took some severe doing! And despite help from my two fellow judges, deciding the grand winners was so challenging that we elected to award more than one winner in a few different categories.

Who won what

For example, the Freelancer Community Award was given to Leila d’Aronville for North East Cultural Freelancers, and Nadine Campbell for ACE Entrepreneurs.

Victoria Jones and Becky Barnes were awarded the Sustainable Freelancer Award; Lina Miller won the Wellbeing Award, Rachel Baines received the New Freelancer Award, the Freelancer Project Award was given to Vanessa Marchant, and personal assistant extraordinaire Georgina Merckel won the Young Freelancer Award.

A further two categories gave out a highly commended award, as well as a winner. Accountancy firm Workwell Solutions won highly commended for their work towards the Self-Employed Supplier Award, but it was coaching consultancy Fearless Business who picked up the main prize. The final award of the night was the Outstanding Freelancer Award. Nadine Campbell took the ‘highly commended’ but it was multi-channel artist Olivier Jamin who secured the top title!

The last oasis for a while?

After the awards, everyone gathered in the Barbican’s beautiful conservatory, a tropical oasis of plants, and we enjoyed some light refreshments.

My fear, I suppose, is that such replenishment might be in short supply for sole traders and other freelancers going forward. In fact, while all the winners had one thing in common – passion – and that’s on top of their drive and determination, I couldn’t help feel that all could be better supported by government policy, particularly as the economic backdrop toughens and the time to recharge themselves has been almost non-existent.

Bounce back hopes, passion, but still discrimination

When freelancers get together to celebrate their achievements it gives you a boost – that’s certainly how I felt on the night – I’m still feeling it now. So I sincerely hope freelancing can bounce back strongly in 2023. The passion and talent is definitely there – we just need a little bit of help from a sympathetic government, for these go-getters who have helped others along the way in businesses, enduring covid and now a recession, while championing their own businesses.

But don’t take it just from me. Let’s hope the government heeds the words of Lord Londesborough of the House of Lords, who said on Thursday:

“A huge number of the two million people [I am referring to] are freelance and therefore self-employed. Please can we stop discriminating against them? The furlough scheme and the flawed off-payroll working rules are two cases in point. They [freelancers] deserve our support for creating their own jobs, showing flexibility at the price of job security, and for being paid on results”.

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