Freelancers' average income dropped by 25% in Q2 2020, according to the latest freelancer Confidence Index by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) and PeoplePerHour.
The drop in income was driven by a record fall in the average number of weeks freelancers worked during the second quarter of 2020.
Between March and June this year, the average freelancer went 5.5 weeks out of 13 without work. Combined with a 3% fall in freelancers' average day rates, this led to average quarterly earnings declining by 25% - from £20,821 in Q1 to £15,709 in Q2.
The fall in earnings did not affect all freelancer groups equally. Self-employed managers saw a 35% decline, while technical freelancers' earnings fell by 16%. Freelancers are pessimistic about the future, with 61% saying they expect to see their day rates fall over the next 12 months – by an average of 11%.
Inna Yordanova, senior researcher at IPSE, said: "Almost two-thirds of the highly skilled freelancers covered by our Confidence Index work through limited companies and therefore could not get support through the Government's Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. With such a financial cliff-edge and limited government support, it is not surprising freelancers' confidence in their businesses over the next 12 months is drastically low – or that so many are leaving self-employment. Recent ONS data shows a drop of 178,000 freelancers since last quarter."
IPSE is calling on the Government to ensure that freelancers have the support they need in the event of a second wave of COVID-19. Otherwise, Yordanova warned, "going through another full lockdown and the resultant slump in work and income could be utterly devastating for them."
A recent poll of contractors, conducted by ContractorCalculator, has found that 50% have suffered financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 and 70% say the pandemic has created new stresses for them:
- 33% of respondents say they haven't worked at all since lockdown;
- A further 28% say they have lost "some or most" of their work;
- 48% have serious concerns about sourcing new work;
- 53% have used some of their cash reserves to support themselves during lockdown.
The situation has elevated stress levels for freelancers and almost one-third (30%) of those polled say stress or anxiety has impaired their ability to work. Key stressors are: the Government's response to the crisis (cited by 55%), not having work (49%); financial difficulties (37%) and problems juggling work and childcare/home schooling (20%).
Government support for freelancers is seen as inadequate, with 55% saying that the Government's response to COVID-19 has exacerbated their stress levels. Just 6% say that government support for the self-employed has been adequate.
Contractors are also concerned about news that IR35 off-payroll rules will be applied to the private sector from April 2021. One in four contractors (24%) said they are now considering going into permanent employment, with 88% citing changes to off-payroll as a key factor and 76% concerned about finding work.
Written by Rachel Miller.