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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

New ESRC-funded project on the impacts of COVID-19 on the self-employed in the UK

Published: 13 July 2020

UK Research and Innovation and the Economic and Social Research Council have awarded a COVID 19 Rapid Response grant to researchers at the University of Southampton, Cardiff University and the Open University to study the spatial and social impacts of the pandemic on the self-employed in the UK. Dr Darja Reuschke in the School of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Southampton together with Prof Andrew Henley at the Cardiff Business School and Prof Elizabeth Daniel at the Open University Business School will study the impact on self-employment across UK regions since the start of the pandemic and over the next 18 months.

Using a number of large representative datasets for the UK the team will provide detailed analysis to inform national and local government support. A detailed appreciation of the impacts of the crisis will also be obtained from in-depth interviewing. Insights will be supplemented by the formation of a panel of experts to give ongoing feedback on the emerging findings and interviews with a wide range of the self-employed, to hear their individual experiences during the lock down and as the economy develops.

Dr Darja Reuschke says: “The self-employed accounted for 15% of the UK workforce before the pandemic and many of these people work in sectors particularly at risk. The reduction in working hours and loss in income may have affected women more severely. So we will particularly focus on gender to assess whether women are losing out in this crisis and dropping out of self-employed work, with long-lasting effects on their level of entrepreneurial activity.”

Professor Andrew Henley stresses the opportunity that the research team will have to access large scale nationally representative data on the change in activity of the self-employed and to assess the impact of the government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. “This will give us an understanding of the social impact of the crisis on households where self-employment earnings make an important contribution to finances.” He adds: “Self-employment rates vary across the UK, so we also intend to investigate whether the spatial impacts of the crisis on self-employment differ from those on paid employment.”

Professor Elizabeth Daniel highlights the importance of the expert panel in the project. “We will bring together experts on self-employment to facilitate the development of regionally and socially inclusive policy that ensures the rapid and robust recovery of this vital sector of the national economy.”

Chloe Jepps, Head of Research at IPSE - the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-employed is pleased to support this project. “We consider this research to be a topic of considerable importance, to understand more about the impact of Covid-19 on this crucial section of the economy. We believe that flexibility in the labour market is crucial to Britain’s economic success.”

The project will commence on the 6th July 2020 over a period of 18 months.

Please follow the researchers on twitter for updates @DarjaReuschke @AndrewGHenley

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