SEISS ineligibility has created a self-employed mental health crisis – guidance issued

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SEISS ineligibility has proven to be a problematic issue for many self-employed workers over the last year or so, with groups such as Excluded UK claiming millions of freelancers have been left out of Government support. In general, freelancers have been hit particularly hard by the economic effects of coronavirus and new research has shown just how damaging it’s all become.

Recently, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) conducted an online survey of 622 freelancers working across a range of occupations.

The results of this survey showed the proportion of freelancers reporting mental health issues rose by over 200 percent during the pandemic – from six percent of all freelancers reporting poor mental health, to 20 percent.

More than half of all freelancers (52 percent) also said their mental health had deteriorated during the pandemic.

Of the freelancers who reported having poor mental health, nearly three out of four (71 percent)said this manifested itself in anxiety or depression.

Unfortunately, on top of the mental and physical issues this has created, the impact of this deterioration in mental health often ran into freelancers’ work itself.

Of those freelancers who reported poor mental health, three out of five (61 percent) said they had struggled to concentrate on work, 60 percent said they had experienced reduced productivity and one in seven (14 percent) even reported having to delay or cancel projects.

It emerged there are two key factors in these increases, which includes the financial damage of the pandemic as well as a lack of access to Government support.

Three out of five freelancers (60 percent) said the pandemic had had a negative impact on their businesses.

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Also, more limited company directors (who were excluded from the SEISS grant scheme) reported a deterioration in their mental health than sole traders: 62 percent compared to 54 percent respectively.

In light of these findings, IPSE devised four recommendations for government to tackle the mental health crisis among freelancers, including ensuring flexible and fair Covid support as the country emerges from lockdown, mental health support tailored to freelancers, promoting coworking spaces with business rates relief and encouraging clients to support freelancers’ mental health.

Chloé Jepps, the Head of Research at IPSE, expanded on this.

She said: “The hidden cost of the pandemic is the toll it has taken on people’s mental health.

“And for freelancers, who took a disproportionate hit because of their exposed position in the economy, this toll has been particularly high.

“We all know the lockdowns and the sheer tragedy of the pandemic have been bad for mental health across the board, but a 200 percent increase in poor mental health is shocking evidence of just how exposed the self-employed community is.

“It is also telling and concerning that the sharpest hit to mental health is among limited company owners, who were largely excluded from support.

“As this research shows, poor mental health not only leads to a rise in conditions such as anxiety and depression; it also leads to problems with freelancers’ work and livelihoods. This is something that both freelancers themselves and the Government need to address. While freelancers should take time to consider and improve their mental health, the Government should also raise awareness about this issue and incentivise client businesses to support their freelancers’ mental health needs.”

Joshua Toovey, a Policy and Research Advisor at IPSE, also provided a number of tips for those struggling with their mental health.

He concluded: “There’s no doubt the pandemic has been a great and disproportionate strain on freelancers, with worrying consequences for their finances and their mental health. This – and the mental health consequences for the entire workforce – is something the Government and industry must take notice of. But it is also something freelancers themselves can improve.

“One of the best things freelancers can do is learn from the experience of their peers. By far the main method freelancers used to boost their mental health during lockdown was regularly exercising outdoors or at home: nearly two out of three (65 percent) said they did this. Freelancers have also been boosting their mental health by maintaining a healthy diet (48 percent) and ensuring they get enough sleep each night (46 percent).

“Nearly half of freelancers (46 percent) also said they worked to maintain good mental health by setting aside time for hobbies and entertainment. A quarter (27 percent) said sharing thoughts and feelings with others and socialising regularly with family and friends (23 percent) also helped them to maintain good mental health. Setting aside regular social time seems an obvious way to maintain good mental health – but all too many hard-working freelancers still don’t make enough time for this. Online freelancer networks and communities – like we run at IPSE for example – can be a good way to build on this.”

If you’re struggling with your mental health, Mind charity offers appropriate support and information

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