Empowering the Freelance Economy

Freedom Day: small business owners may need to take extra precautions into their own hands to avoid ‘pingdemic’

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The government has confirmed that ‘Freedom Day’ will go ahead as planned on Monday 19 July in a bid to boost the economy. But 53% of small businesses including freelancers and solopreneurs polled think social distancing restrictions are being lifted too soon. Can they take extra precautions into their own hands?

Health Minister Sajid Javid is just one of the latest to contract COVID, yet he did not grant further powers to business owners under their own health and safety rules, including mask-wearing. He is leaving morality and common sense up to customers and business owners.

Business chiefs are now taking matters into their own hands, with Timpson chairman Sir John Timpson telling the BBC in recent days that he will ask staff to wear masks to protect his customers but will not force customers to cover their faces because the mandate will have been scrapped. Many of his staff have had to self-isolate because they had come in contact that had tested positive and been pinged by the NHS tack and trace app.

More than 500,000 alerts were sent to users of the NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales in the week to 7 July, the BBC reported, telling them they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus – that’s up 46% on the previous week.

Are restrictions being lifted too soon?

Simply Business recently spoke to over 900 small business owners to find out their thoughts on lifting restrictions, social distancing, and who should take responsibility for the rules being set. This is what they found out.

The lifting of restrictions on 19 July means that in the hospitality sector, nightclubs will be able to open for the first time in over a year, while pubs and restaurants will be able to operate at full capacity with fewer rules.

Despite this, over half (53 per cent) of those polled believe social distancing restrictions are being lifted too soon.

Confirmed cases of Covid-19 have continued to rise in recent weeks, exceeding 40,000 on 14 July – the highest figure recorded since mid-January.

This could be why one in 10 small business owners told Simply Business that they aren’t confident in resuming trading after 19 July.

Will small businesses keep social distancing?

Almost one in three (30%) small businesses will keep social distancing measures and operate at a reduced capacity after Freedom Day.

“This echoes the government’s encouragement of people to continue wearing facemasks in crowded indoor spaces and London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s order that facemasks remain compulsory on the London Underground and buses,” said the Simply Business report.

Face masks will become optional in many settings in England from Monday 19 July. But transport operators will continue to have their own policies for passengers, with Transport for London insisting on face coverings on all its services, The Independent reported.

Five other mayors across the country, including Tracy Brabin in West Yorkshire and Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, have called for people to continue wearing face coverings on public transport.

One of the biggest questions now is whether the responsibility for unlocking safely should sit with businesses or the individuals that use them. Almost half (47%) of the business owners we polled feel it should be a shared responsibility.

However, 29 % are calling on the government to provide clearer guidelines to help them reopen safely.

The government has published initial guidance on how businesses can operate safely as restrictions are eased, which is due to be updated on 19 July.

Small business owners optimistic about trading levels

Despite the concern over restrictions, many small business owners remain optimistic with 67 % feeling confident about trading levels from 19 July onwards.

Previous research by the small business insurer highlighted that 22 % of small business owners across the UK were optimistic about life after the pandemic, with 10% saying they’d be confident enough to start a new business.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in May, which was the fourth consecutive month of growth.

However, it was down on the 2 % growth recorded in April and remains 3.1 % below pre-pandemic levels.

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