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Being a Young Freelancer in the Age of Corona

The government has been splashing some cash to help support people during the pandemic. But is it enough for the self-employed?

Around 15% of the UK population is self-employed. Freelancing either full time or on the side is an increasing reality for workers, and even in normal times it can be a grind as it is to make sure you can get enough work. But in the age of Corona, it’s proving even harder to make a sustainable living. 

Like others, young people are out here freelancing to earn a living too! We’ve asked three young freelancing in the creative sector, how they’re coping with the uncertainty of Rona, whether the government is giving them enough support and whether young people are being blamed disproportionately for not taking social distancing rules seriously. 

Asyia Iftikhar 

Age: 20

I’m currently a full time student who does freelance writing and comedy on the side. My ability to do comedy gigs has practically disappeared, although I wasn’t at a point where all my work was paid, it has really set me back from being able to earn a regular income. 

In terms of writing, the freelance market has become incredibly competitive, and many magazines and outlets have greatly reduced the number of pitches they are accepting. With so many full time professional freelancers losing work and taking up the little work left available, the spaces that I used to be able to work in have been largely taken away from me made harder to access

I think there are a lot of young people who weren’t taking it seriously but a lot of it was the government’s fault, firstly for not making it seem as serious as it was other than in the last week. Secondly, they made it seem as though young people are invincible, so they continued going out. We have to remember that for a lot of young people their lives are completely changed, university and exams have been cancelled and entering the job market is going to be so much more difficult in the aftermath of this 

Unfortunately as I do not earn anywhere near enough to apply for support or funding, I have just had to take the hit of not being able to acquire work. I am not sure what they can do though, since there are other employment groups that are hit much harder. However the faster than the arts industry is supported and recovers, the sooner we can make space for all freelancers again.  

Hayley Everett 

Age: 23

I’m a Multimedia Reporter for two international publications and Editor of a newly-launched digital magazine in the US. I also write across a variety of topics on a freelance basis in my free time, and run my own travel blog. 

As a result of measures brought in for small and medium-sized businesses I have been furloughed from my reporter and editor roles for the foreseeable future. While 80% of those wages should be met by the Government, it has created a lot of uncertainty and unease at this time, especially around National Insurance Contributions, pension contributions and other such aspects. This has in turn put pressure on the freelance work I do, as that will now have to pick up the slack in money coming in and it has become even more crucial to secure commissions.

Social media can give the warped impression that all young people everywhere are not social distancing, and this is then picked up upon by both the media and the public, Saying that, I think it is important for everyone to hold themselves and others to account for their actions, but this has to be done within reason. 

I think at the start of the outbreak in the UK there was a lot of emphasis both from the Government and the media on the fact that the virus only seriously affected the elderly or those with underlying health conditions, and the relative danger the virus posed to younger people was considerably downplayed. I guess this was to try and prevent mass panic, but in my opinion the seriousness of the virus should have been made more obvious earlier on, so that young people could understand sooner why social distancing is so important.

Now it’s been made clear that we are in lockdown and therefore should be following the social distancing guidance. 

I’m fortunate to have the financial security of my furloughed staff job to fall back on during this time in addition to taking on more freelance work, however many are not in the same situation. The support announced for freelancers by the Government this week has let a lot of people slip through the gaps either because they do not earn enough to meet the threshold, or only went freelance this year, for example. There definitely needs to be a rethink around what support these people can expect from the Government.

For young freelancers, I think there needs to be more clarification on what support they are entitled to from the Government, and how they can access it. Freelancing can be complicated and scary at the best of times, let alone in the midst of a pandemic and economic uncertainty, and especially if you haven’t been doing it for long. 

Diyora Shadijanova

Age: 24

I’m a freelance multimedia journalist who specialises in feature writing. I have a weekly news and culture podcast and I also write on pop culture, current affairs and lifestyle.

I can’t tell yet how much coronavirus is going to affect my work as it’s too soon to say. I’m very lucky because I still have contracted work with my podcast, but I don’t know how my future commissions will be affected. Freelance budgets have been cut, so I expect to see less opportunities coming through my inbox and more rejections as budgets tighten.

I don’t want to lose hope and I think it’s really easy to let this affect you psychologically. I was writing about this in my newsletter for freelancers, how it’s easy to think like “everything’s gonna be shit now” but we don’t know what’s going to happen. You can’t let the fear get to you before the actual reality hits. You have to keep putting yourself out there and keep securing work. 

Particularly for freelance work, your mental health is so important. The way you frame things and your perspective is going to get you through it. If you see everything you do as likely to be a failure It’s easy to get overwhelmed and think you can’t compete against the many other freelancers. All you can do is try your best. I’m trying to stay away from that deficit mindset and to see opportunities where there were none before. We have to adapt to survive as freelance workers. 

There’s been some anger directed at young people for not taking the coronavirus seriously. To begin with we were told that young people are not getting sick- which is not true, although we still have a better chance of survival. That information made it sound like young people didn’t need to care as much.

There are two aspects people aren’t acknowledging. Firstly young people are way more visible on social media, so we can more easily access what young people are doing. Secondly, older people were failing to self isolate too! I was running last week past a pub and everyone there looked middle-aged or older. So I really don’t think it’s fair to blame young people- up until last week the government advice was really unclear, so they weren’t taking Coronavirus too seriously either. 

The new government scheme doesn’t cover everyone; if you’ve recently gone freelance you can’t prove easily what 80% of your average salary is as you don’t have any tax returns. Secondly, many won’t get the money till June. I appreciate the government is doing what it can- I’m not going to hate everything they do. But in terms of freelancing, there needs to be more.

People who are freelancers in the creative industries inject so much into the economy so not protecting those industries is really crazy to me. We’re all now sitting at home watching films, Netflix, listening to music. We need people to keep creating this amazing content that we all enjoy. 

Thanks for reading our article! We know young people’s opinions matter and really appreciate everyone who reads us.

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