Addressing inclusivity in the spatial and social impacts of COVID-19 on the self-employed in the UK

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Sch of Geography & Environmental Sci


The self-employed are a particularly vulnerable group in the current coronavirus crisis. In contrast to elsewhere, the UK has seen significant growth in self-employment, reaching 15% of the workforce before the coronavirus outbreak. The self-employed are predominant in those sectors most hit by shutdown and social distancing measures. This disproportionate impact on self-employment is likely to have a longer-term effect on entrepreneurial activity and regional economic performance in the UK if current policies are not able to support groups and areas that are particularly hit. Self-employment has specific social and spatial features which means that the crisis will impact on specific social groups and areas in the UK differently. Women and some ethnic groups cluster in the most affected sectors, and some regions, particularly in the North and Scotland, have large shares of self-employment in accommodation and food services. Although generous to those eligible, government support (SEISS) excludes some significant groups.

This programme of research will investigate the social and spatial consequences of the coronavirus crisis on the self-employed in the UK. The project comprises two elements. First will be extensive secondary analysis of nationally representative UK survey data. This will allow detailed analysis of self-employment before, during and after the lockdown, including exits from self-employment and the ability of the self-employed to maintain earnings levels. A particular focus will be on gender as early analysis of the impact of this crisis suggested that women are particularly affected. The secondary data analysis we will be augmented with narratives from the self-employed. For this purpose we will interview self-employed women and men in different regions in the UK.

The second element is designed to generate expert evidence for the UK as a whole through engagement with nationally representative bodies such as the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the Association of Independent Professional and Self-Employed (IPSE). The purpose of both elements is to support recovery strategy proposals, tailored to the particular context of key UK Industrial Strategy stakeholders - City Regions, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Devolved Administrations.
Description In the first seven months of our project, we have published self-employment figures for the UK by region and by socio-demographic characteristics of the self-employed. We have shown that the number of self-employed persons has dramatically decreased in the UK as a consequence of the Coronavirus crisis. We have compiled evidence showing that self-employed women are harder hit by the crisis than self-employed men in terms of hours worked and earnings.
Exploitation Route The Federation of Small Businesses is very interested in our findings. It may help them in designing their policy engagement. Specifically, our findings on regional differences may help them in defining regional approaches to the support of small businesses and the self-employed.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism

Description Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) 
Organisation Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We provide them timely new research findings.
Collaborator Contribution IPSE is member of our expert panel. They would provide their London-based premises for project events, if this would be possible in 2021/2022. They comment on our findings in written format and during online meetings which is helpful for defining new research directions/demands. They support the dissemination of our findings.
Impact IPSE is the biggest self-employed think tank in the UK. They have direct channels to policy.
Start Year 2021
Description Expert panel 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We set up our project expert panel soon after the start of the project. Because of distancing restrictions due to COVID-19 we designed our engagement using the virtual platform MS Teams. We continuously communicate with our panel members using this platform. We inform them about new policy briefs and ask specific questions for their feedback. In December 2020 we first met for an online live session where we presented new findings and an extended discussion on interpretations and policy implications of our findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020