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Self-employed are the UK’s forgotten through the pandemic

Melody Schroeder
Melody Schroeder
3rd June 2020

Community member, Melody Schroeder, gives her personal perspective on what it feels like to be one of the forgotten self-employed.

When Rishi Sunak first took to the podium back in March to extol the ‘unprecedented’ measures to help those not able to work, I felt simultaneously relieved and sick. Relief for the portion of my friends who are employed and would now have furlough, and sick for the great number of forgotten self-employed colleagues and friends, of whom there was no mention.

At this stage we were a country in shock, the first great blow of the pandemic earthquake was still being felt. Many of us went into damage limitation mode, and we responded in a host of ways to help navigate through the fallout.

The self-employed were patiently and anxiously waiting for the rope to pull themselves up, to survive the wreckage, but the waiting was prolonged and the intensity of the situation grew. I remember the anger and fear swelling within me.

I went into overdrive. All my work as a self-employed contractor dissolved contract after contract into pools of dust, harrowing ‘goodbye and thanks for everything’ conversations became commonplace. Surely, we could not be left behind? The Chancellor said as much. Yet no one was coming and self-employed individuals, limited companies and the like, were still dangling precariously.

Then Rishi on his white horse came back to pluck us out of the depths. The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme was in place. An amazing flood of relief swam over me. Salvation was coming. After all I’ve been self-employed for over twenty years. All would be OK. No one would be left behind, the mantra of “whatever it takes” soothed fear like a gentle balm. Never for one moment did I think I wouldn’t be eligible. The one thing I’ve known for sure (often painfully) is that I have self-employed status.

Then I found out. There was no cavalry. I and many others were abandoned.

In the three tax years being looked at I had a PAYE job alongside my self-employed acting/ writing and communication training work. This job was at Hamleys where I was employed by a karaoke company singing to children and families, whilst dressed as a fairy, in a tutu that was too tight. I was struggling with a low income at the time and so took on more singing shifts, working long hours over Christmas and other holidays. My PAYE job (which status incidentally was forced upon my company by HMRC) ended up being a higher percentage than my self-employed. By just a fraction.

Therefore I’m not eligible for help. Nothing.

As I watch the awful spin this government tries to force upon the public, of “unprecedented” help, of “leaving no one behind”, over three million forgotten self-employed will be on the brink of starvation and collapse at the start of June. Many are left behind, due to some arbitrary rules that make no sense and exclude too many. Other countries have given all citizens a grant no questions asked. In their account, on their doormats, cheques by way of support.

In the last couple of months I’ve worked as an NHS responder. I’ve had two conversations with people which I’ll never forget. They were talking about suicide being a better solution than living in constant fear of no income and uncertainty. My MP’s office told me they are expecting an increase in suicides this year. I feel sad and heartbroken that this country can turn its back on so many.

How can it be right? And why is there not a bigger movement to change it?

We pay our taxes. We work hard. We take no sick pay or holiday pay. My self-employed work is within the NHS, police and armed forces, teaching the communication skills of compassion and empathy. We don’t deserve to suffer but we don’t know how we will survive.

Thankfully, I found Community when scrolling through twitter looking for grass roots campaigns fighting for those that fell through the gap. Community jumped out and it was wonderful to find ‘a home’. Community has offered me more support than most so far and I’m very grateful I stumbled across them.

For facts about the SEISS scheme and more detailed info as to why there are so many forgotten self-employed please see Rose Mason’s blog and please do sign the petition. Many thanks.

Melody is one of Community’s newest self-employed members and is already using her voice to support self-employed workers across the UK.

You can do that too, join Community today.