Can’t work? Who cares?

IMG_0192Authors 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 officeΒ  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.

StudyI’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.)

31 thoughts on “Can’t work? Who cares?

  1. Your positive, self-reliant (much better phrase than self-employed) approach to recovery shines through in this post, Sue. Hope you’re back to full strength soon. : )


  2. If your national insurance contributions are up to date (which is trickier in the new system!) there is contribution-based ESA which doesn’t look at income, just NI contributions.


  3. I hope you’re feeling better soon, Sue.
    As far as Class 2 Ni contributions go, they stopped collecting them by Direct Debit last summer, but they are now collected via your tax return, with the option for people who don’t earn enough for them to be compulsory to pay voluntarily by ticking a box (which for many people is well worth doing!)


    • Thanks, Sherri, I’m healing very well indeed. Thanks also for the info re Class 2 NI contributions. That’s really useful information and definitely something I didn’t know. More self-reliance needed, possibly, but hopefully my accountant knows what’s best for me! πŸ™‚


  4. I like the idea of being self-reliant! I suffered from terrible pregnancy sickness for the whole nine months of my last pregnancy, and got nauseous every time I looked at a screen. But I had books contracted, and had to get them in… There were definitely lots of days when I wished someone could just sign me off sick and I’d get paid anyway! On the other hand, being able to be flexible about my working hours meant I was still able to make all of my commitments. Just!


  5. Great article Sue. I know the feeling well. I was self employed when pregnant 15 years ago, I could have only 2 weeks off as maternity leave. And now, 15 years later, I was recently diagnosed with MS – I can write still, thankfully, but am armed with Dragon Dictation, just in case, and keeping fingers crossed I can maintain an income and continue writing. I hope you feel better very soon x


  6. Get well soon , Sue. Being self reliant can be a problem at times. I’m closely watching NI contributions as, due to recent changes, it seems we are no longer billed for this. My fear is it will slip through the net and we won’t be aware until it’s too late and our state pension is affected.


  7. I like the idea of being self-reliant, Sue. That has a strong, positive vibe. Your post is full of fighting spirit πŸ™‚ I can hear your engine revving.
    I’m in the process of teaching my pc/speech software to understand me. Sometimes it works, other times it types out a comedy sketch, but I shall persist. If nothing else, I have some funny anecdotes for parties.
    Hope you back to full speed soon xx


    • Thank you, Laura. Now I feel a fraud as my health issues are temporary and so much less than yours! I hope your experiment with speech recognition software is successful. I know some people get it to work well for them. xx


  8. You have all my sympathies, Sue. I have a really bad shoulder too, and get shooting pains down my arm when it’s at its worst. Have you tried one of the dictation programmes yet? I’d be interested to know how it goes, if you have. All best for a seedy recovery!


    • Hi Jenny. I used Dragon for Mac when I had the other shoulder fixed in 2009. I found it a frustrating experience, to be honest. It so nearly worked … but not quite. I suspect that speech recognition software has moved on a lot since then, having experienced Siri on my phone, but I didn’t bother. I just arranged my work around my capabilities. Having had the other shoulder fixed I had no hesitation in having this one done. The results on my right shoulder have been very good and all the signs are that the left shoulder will be at least as good as the right. It’s not just the pain, it’s the physical restrictions that I don’t like.


  9. I hope you are recovering well, Sue.
    I am in the same position – not post-surgery, but self-employed and not eligible for sick pay despite paying national insurance contributions all my adult life and tax. And the way they keep moving the retirement goal posts we’ll NEVER be able to retire.

    Liked by 1 person

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