Authors are self-employed. Some of us have day jobs or part-time jobs to supplement our income … but I don’t.
This means no holiday pay and, more pertinently right now, no sick pay.
I’ve just had surgery on my shoulder. I couldn’t have worked for much longer without the surgery, even if I could have put aside the discomfort, as I was gradually losing the use of my left arm. Typing wasn’t too bad as the lower my arm was positioned the better it worked, but driving had become very difficult. I’d begun to turn down opportunities to talk or teach at venues more then a ten minute drive from my home as I knew I’d spend the journey wincing if I had to pull on the handbrake or put the car into reverse, stretching, resting my arm or thinking about the burning heaviness of it more than the road ahead.
Turning down work has an impact on income – but not half the impact of not working at all.
Post-surgery, the hospital gave me a sick note for six weeks. I could email from my iPad using my other hand so I contacted my accountant to say that I thought six weeks was a bit much and I should be fully recovered in about four. Should I send the sick note to him anyway?
He replied that I could send it to him if I wished. But Statutory Sick Pay for the self-employed ceased in April 2016 and I’d have to apply for Employment and Support Allowance, which is means tested rather than statutory.
There didn’t seem much point.
If I was still employed in an office I wouldn’t have been able to go back to work full-time yet (19 days post surgery) but because I’m self-employed I am at least able to pick and choose tasks and so have begun planning the next book as I can do that by hand (I’m right handed) and it was a good opportunity for research (read: watching property programmes on TV and reading websites about estate management).I worked very hard to get my WIP to my agent before surgery, which at least takes pressure off. I can now type for short periods with painkillers. All this seems easier than filling in the ESA application and being told I won’t get anything because savings and partner’s income are taken into account.
I’m not writing this post as a political statement or to gain sympathy. I’m aware that the erratic nature of author income means that receiving nothing into one’s bank account for a month or two is nothing new. It’s just that I’m freshly struck by the realities of being self-employed, that there is no one to think about holiday pay or pension contributions but ourselves. No one to cover our desks and do our work while we’re away. National Insurance contributions are statutory but sick pay isn’t.
Maybe we shouldn’t be called self-employed. In future I think I’ll call myself self-reliant, instead. (As well as self-starting and self-motivated.)