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  • New research shows more than four out of five micro-business owners admit that they have worked through an illness rather than taking time off
  • Lack of sick pay provision and long working hours means that self-employed people do not feel like they can afford to take a rest from their business while they are ill
  • Most self-employed people do not have any provision for sick pay, but it is the one benefit they would be most interested in receiving

Ahead of Small Business Saturday tomorrow, the majority of UK micro-business owners could be seriously risking their health by not taking time off from work when they are sick, according to new research.

In a survey of more than 500 freelancers and micro-businesses carried out by cloud accounting software company FreeAgent, an overwhelming 82% of respondents admitted that they had worked through an illness at some point while running their own business because they felt they “could not afford to take time off”.

The research also revealed that many micro-business owners are regularly working long hours, with nearly a third (30%) of respondents saying that they said they worked more than 48 hours per week on their business. In addition, 5% admitted that they spent more than 64 hours each week working.

FreeAgent – which makes award-winning cloud accounting software for micro-businesses, freelancers and accountants – believes that the results should be a wake-up call for the 5.2 million people running freelance and micro-businesses across the UK.

Ed Molyneux, CEO and co-founder of FreeAgent, said:“Running a small business can be incredibly tough. From working long hours and spending most of your time on admin, right through to the stress of maintaining a healthy cash flow and finding new customers, it’s a very demanding and often overwhelming job.”

“But what makes self-employment especially tough is that there is rarely any kind of safety net in place to help protect you from the unforeseen. If you’re too sick to work, you won’t make any money – and it’s clear that many micro-business owners feel that they have to tough through an illness rather than actually taking time to rest and recuperate.”

“That’s just not a sustainable solution in the long run and it means that the UK’s micro-business sector could actually actually putting its health at serious risk.”

Earlier this year, a separate poll carried out by FreeAgent and The Freelancer & Contractor Services Association (FCSA) revealed that 76% of self-employed people currently do not have any method of providing sick pay, maternity/paternity leave, holiday or redundancy pay in their business.

The research results – which were submitted to the government in advance of the Taylor Review – also showed that sick pay provision was the benefit that self-employed people would most welcome, coming way ahead of other benefits such as maternity pay, job seekers allowance and pension auto-enrolment.

Ed adds: “In an ideal world, micro-business owners would be able to put money aside to cover periods of sickness and give themselves a chance to properly recover. But in reality, this isn’t usually possible. For many, self-employment can be a hand-to-mouth existence and they don’t have the required funds available to protect themselves from the unexpected.

“With the government currently considering ‘levelling the playing field’ when it comes to the amount of tax that employed and self-employed people pay, I would like to see some focus being put on this issue – and potentially the introduction of support to help people who run their own businesses mitigate the risks of self-employment and ensure that they do not put their health in jeopardy.

“We know that sick pay is the one benefit that freelancers and micro-business owners are most interested in receiving, so hopefully progress can be made towards providing this kind of safety net for them in the future.”  

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