Many countries all over the world have been in a state of lockdown for several weeks now and in some cases months. In the UK ths has meant that the government has had to bring in measures to ensure that people are still able to be paid and keep up with the bills. This has been achieved by paying employees 80% of their salary whilst they are unable to work and has by and large been successful, but inevitably some have slipped through the net. The self employed have had to wait until June which has meant thaat many are already unable to pay the bills. As I began my business a decade ago now as a self employed persone, I know only too well that the first two or three years spent getting a business off the ground are spent living paycheck to paycheck and often scraping by on credit cards, or borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, until the buiness becomes established and sustainable. During this period, savings are generally ploughed into the new business, not kept aside for a rainy day. (Or a global plague brought about by a government intent on lying, covering up, and manouevering to absolve itself of any responsibility) On top of this, if the business has been established within 24 months, then appropriate accounts will yet to have been filed and so these already vulnerable people will be unable to claim anything.
Another group, slightly less precarious, but all the same at risk are company directors. When you think of these people many assume they are wealthy enough to weather the storm, but many aren’t. Accountants often, usually in fact, advise small business owners to become company directors rather than self employed because it is more tax efficient and has less liability attached to the individul if the business becomes insolvent. So many of these people are just regular Joes who are also living paycheck to paycheck, and in many cases, especially with small businesses, their income is unreliable, and so the owners often end up earning less than the employees.
For this reason small businesses have had to be adaptible. Certainly in Kent, many pubs have become grocery stores offering weekly grocery deliveries, and take away beer. These deliveries are being made by plum bers, electricians and other tradies who have vans but no use for them as their trades bring them into close proximity with people in their homes. This adaptibility will be paramount in their ability to stay afloat.
Luckily for the landscaping and tree surgery industries our work is carried out nearly exclusively outside and so social distancing is easier for us than other trades and we have been able to change our working practices to accommodate the new situation we have found ourselves in. For example Kent Arboreal released the following post on Instagram recently;
Within these parameters there is no reason for us to stop working, and in fact under these conditions, aside from a weekly visit to a petrol station to fill up the vans with diesel and the jerry cans with petrol, there is no need for us to have any contact with other human beings at all.
Of course, there has been a downturn caused by a restriction in our ability to carry out larger jobs, and also a shortage of supplies of certain materials due to the suppliers and manufcturers themselves being on hiatus, but it has meant that we can continue to operate, which is very fortunate for us.
Other guys in our field have taken different steps, including in one case a company installing perspex screeens in their vans separating the workers from one another.
It is imperitive that people are sensible and maintain social distancing during this period, but it is equally imperative that everybody is able to pay their bills, as in the long term poverty caused by this could be a far worse killer than the disease itself. There is some degree of stigma attached to those continuing to operate, even given that they are taking sensible precautions and posing no danger. This is misplaced and an unfortunate side effect of the governments combination of guidelines which explicitly allow people to continue working as long as social distancing can be maintained coupled with a snappy slogan stating “ Stay Home, Help The NHS, Save Lives”. Most people are only aware of the slogan, which doesn’t imply nearly as much flexibility as there actually is. This is obviously deliberate because it gives people a firm directive, whilst saving having to criminalise those that are trying to make ends meet. Largely the government have got things right at least with regards to working practices and remunerating those that can’t safely socially distance whilst continuing to work, but for those of us who don’t qualify for one reason or other, we must continue to work, and we will, safely, because we are an adaptible, resilient bunch who are used to looking after ourselves without help from the state. For small businesses, this is our crucible, and we are already showing incredible nimbleness which has allowed the little guys to finally start winning business back from the multinationals, whether it’s a pub selling groceries that Tesco can’t procure, or a plasterer delivering them when Sainsbury’s don’t have capacity to do it with their own huge home delivery system, or just a landscaper carrying on as before whilst staying the hell away from other people.