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Thousands of disabled self-employed missing out on ‘pandemic support’

Maggie O’Carroll, chief executive of social enterprise The Women’s Organisation

AT LEAST 50,000 disabled people who became self-employed last year are missing out on Government funding during the coronavirus pandemic.

A report by IPSE – the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed – also says disabled self-employed people are more likely to need financial support during the crisis because, in normal times, their average daily pay rate is 12% lower than freelancers who do not report having a disability.

They are disadvantaged further by finding looking for work more challenging (21% compared with 16% of people not reporting a disability), having, in the first place, been forced into self-employment for reasons of discrimination in their previous job compared with people without disabilities (14% against eight per cent), says IPSE.

The report also claims disabled self-employed do not enjoy the same employment opportunities as others (26% compared with 20%).

However, their reasons for becoming self-employed, research says, are still largely positive, including having greater control over their hours (52%), more control over their work (51%) and having a better work-life balance (47%).

Inna Yordanova, senior researcher at IPSE, said: “This research vividly shows the cost of the gaps in the Government support.

“Many people who are missing out on Government financial support are those who are likely to need it most.

“As our research uncovers, disabled self-employed people are likely to have lower earnings and to find it more difficult to get work at the best of times.

“During the coronavirus crisis they will be in particularly dire need – one of the worst groups for the Government to leave out in the cold.”

She said that there are likely to be even more disabled people missing out on government support than her research suggests, as it does not account for people who are working through a limited company.

“Making up about 14% of the self-employed workforce, disabled people are a huge and important part of the freelancing community who must not be overlooked in the coronavirus crisis,” she added.

There are now 662,000 disabled self-employed people in the UK, an increase of eight per cent since 2018, and 41% since 2013.

The number of disabled women choosing self-employment is also rising, with 30,000 becoming their own boss in the past year alone, which is an increase of 12%.

Maggie O’Carroll, chief executive of social enterprise The Women’s Organisation, says this is a sector that must be backed up with support from the Government.

She said: “We have seen that those missing out on vital government support are all too often those who need it most.

“The benefits of self-employment are acutely significant for disabled people, including greater control over their hours, more autonomy over their work and having a better work-life balance, particularly in the context of disabled people who are more likely to find looking for work challenging, not have other employment opportunities available, and even face discrimination in other roles.”

She added: “Self-employment, on the other hand, offers real, tangible advantages which considerably improve the quality of life for disabled people, both socially and economically, and they must be protected at all costs.

“What’s more, losing these roles and incomes would be a huge loss for the UK’s economy which would stand to lose out on significant value added in the long term.

“The figures revealed in this report speak for themselves. Nearly half reported that they have been self-employed for over a decade.

“There is a real risk that we are going to lose viable, sustainable businesses in the interim if they aren’t protected now.

“That is why we urgently need to see the right financial support in place to safeguard these positions and secure the future of thousands across the country.”

One programme working to support disabled people across the Liverpool City Region to take a more active role in social and economic life is Directions, a brand-new pre-employment programme.

Directions aims to engage disadvantaged, hard to reach groups in activity and skills development which will help to raise aspirations and awareness of pathways into employment and training opportunities.

In particular, the programme will work with participants with disabilities by linking them up with project partners who specialise in tailored support for these groups to help them reach their full potential.

Lisa McMullan, director for development & consultancy at The Women’s Organisation, says: “When it comes to exploring routes to employment, we know that self-employment can offer a flexible, fulfilling and viable option for many, particularly for those with a disability who may have faced discrimination in previous workplaces and struggled to find the right role for them.

“It is essential that those considering their next steps, or what their own future might look like, have visible and recognisable role models who are excelling in their fields. The research shows us that the number of disabled self-employed people across the country has nearly doubled over the last decade.

“The Government must now sure that those who have taken this leap are being properly supported if that trajectory is to continue.”

The Women’s Organisation is an award-winning social enterprise, which has been operating on Merseyside and in Manchester since 1996.

Based at 54 St James Street in the Baltic Triangle area of the city, The Women’s Organisation is the UK’s largest female enterprise agency providing a range of services focused on supporting women to start and develop small and medium-sized enterprises.

Tel 0151 706 8111 or email 

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