Empowering the Freelance Economy

Rising transport costs have made in-person meetings a luxury for freelancers

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Freelancers across the UK are facing a growing dilemma: meet clients in person and eat into their profits with soaring public transport costs or forgo the potential benefits of face-to-face interaction and rely solely on video conferencing.

This comes as Labour reiterates its commitment to nationalising the railways, claiming it will bring down ticket prices “well within the first term” if elected, according to the Newham Recorder.

The rising cost of living, coupled with stagnant or decreasing wages, has hit freelancers particularly hard. Many rely on public transport to travel to client meetings, and recent price hikes have made these essential journeys a significant financial burden.

Depending on where you are based, a single train journey into central London can now cost a freelancer half a day’s work or more.

Aimee Brewerton a marketing specialist working for Purpose Disruptors posted on LinkedIn that she was “speechless, raging and confused” over why a two-hour open-return train journey from London to Tiverton would cost her £300.

Brewerton’s message struck a chord with many professionals commenting on her post that just because you pay hundreds of pounds for a train ticket it doesn’t even guarantee you a seat. Such let-downs make it harder for freelancers to justify in-person client meetings a much as they enjoy them.

“Horrendous hikes” in transport and mortgage rates

Transport costs paired with rising housing costs are making in-person meetings a loss-making exercise for many freelancers. It’s become a luxury.  

For example, freelancers living in areas with higher house prices, such as Bromley, Windsor and East Hampshire, are likely to be more affected by rising mortgage rates because the increase will be on a larger base amount.

However, the areas experiencing the biggest percentage increases in mortgage payments are actually in London. Kensington and Chelsea, Camden and Tower Hamlets have seen the sharpest rises, exceeding 22%.

A similar trend is seen with rents. While London and the surrounding areas are most exposed to rental increases, the biggest jumps aren’t necessarily in the most expensive boroughs. Kensington and Chelsea again top the list, but this time with a more modest 6.1% increase, followed by Hackney and Westminster at around 5.8% and 5.5% respectively.

“The runaway cost of keeping a roof over our heads is laying waste to the financial resilience of millions of people,” says Sarah Coles, head of personal finance, Hargreaves Lansdown.

The average 2-year fixed mortgage rate is 5.84%, according to Moneyfacts, which Coles describes as a “horrendous hike” for the 1.4 million people who remortgaged last year – especially when over half of them had previously been paying less than 2%. Meanwhile, average rents are up almost 10%, pushing people to breaking point. The squeeze on renters is actually tighter than on those moving to a new mortgage.

In-person meetings are becoming a luxury

While video calls are great, sometimes you need that in-person connection to build rapport and get a clear understanding of a client’s needs.

This sentiment is echoed by many freelancers, who fear that relying solely on online communication could hinder their ability to secure new clients and projects—however, the financial reality for many means they’re forced to make tough choices.

The Labour Party’s pledge to renationalise the railways has been met with cautious optimism by freelancer groups.

A reduction in transport costs would be a huge relief. It would allow freelancers to work more freely and potentially even take on lower-paying projects, for example in the non-profit sector, knowing travel costs wouldn’t swallow them. However, any signs of lower fares may not materialise until next year, if at all.

While the impact of potential nationalisation is still to be seen, one thing is clear: for many freelancers, the ability to meet clients face-to-face is becoming an increasingly expensive luxury.

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