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Majority of UK furloughed workers say going freelance had positive mental health impact

·2-min read
African american businesswoman working in office having a video conference. Smiling female executive sitting at her desk making a video call with laptop in office.
Being put on furlough was a catalyst in the decision to turn freelance for many workers. 67% of respondents said they turned freelance as a direct result of being furloughed. Photo: Getty

The furlough scheme has kept millions of UK workers on payrolls since being introduced at the onset of the COVID crisis in March last year. 

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, first announced by UK chancellor Rishi Sunak is a measure to help businesses retain staff and curb mass unemployment due to redundancies. 

Official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show, around 11.2 million jobs have been supported by the scheme since March 2020. About 4.7 million people are currently on furlough and four out of 10 employers are using the scheme.

The scheme has also seen a spur in freelance workers as many chose to explore alternative revenues of income, with research showing the majority of new freelancer seeing a positive mental health impact. 

According to a study from digital accountancy tool Bokio, 53% of 1,300 UK freelancer said going freelance has had a positive impact on their mental health, compared with 33% who believe it has a negative impact.

Meanwhile, 60% of new freelancers said they never considered freelancing before being furloughed from their full-time job, but the majority (74%) said they were glad they made the move, 66% of respondents are happier since turning freelance than they were in full-time employment. 

"Turning freelance is a brave decision to make in anyone’s career, but, as with most risks, there can be great reward," said Viktor Stensson, CEO and co-Founder of Bokio. 

Read more: What will happen to the furlough scheme in July?

Being put on furlough was a catalyst in the decision to turn freelance for many workers. 67% of respondents said they turned freelance as a direct result of being furloughed. 

Of the respondents, 60% are working in the same or a similar sector as to when they were employed full-time, 27% are in the same sector but working a different role. 

A small percentage (13%) of respondents have pivoted to a completely different industry than the one they were working in pre-pandemic. 

Gemma Jones, who is an editor who turned freelance after being put on furlough last year, said she knew freelancing was "always an option for me but I never thought I’d ever be brave enough to take the leap!" 

Jones said the coronavirus pandemic "made it easier" to start a freelance career. "By October when I started freelancing, companies had already adapted to working remotely so it meant I could work for companies that I wouldn’t usually – for example, I’ve had a few London-based jobs which I have completed remotely as I live in Manchester," she added. 

Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?

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