Coronavirus: Should furloughed workers offer their skills for free?

Coronavirus: Should furloughed workers offer their skills for free?

Stella Norris

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Stella Norris

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Stella Norris is in tune with the difficult situation of freelancers

Many dismissed workers, with the time available, are offering their skills for free, but some freelancers are questioning the trend.

“I was tired of making banana bread!” Stella Norris jokes.

The 31-year-old normally works as a digital marketing manager for a London art agency. She has been fired and desperately wants to go back to her old job, but in the meantime she works from home, volunteers for a charity called Children of Rwanda.

Layoff workers are those who are asked to stay home by employers during the coronavirus blockade with an 80% salary. This is funded by the Job Retention Scheme government, which opened on April 20.

Stella has been joined by, one of the many platforms that connect laid-off workers to organizations that need help.

“It was surprisingly easy to order,” says Stella.

The charity made sure his background was right for the role and had a video call with the CEO. He wanted five hours a week from her – she’s happy to offer more, helping them reach people online.

“I consider it my normal job, giving them a weekly summary of what I’ve done,” he says.

Many charities now need help with online skills to reach potential donors because they cannot do traditional fundraising.

In addition to keeping her busy, the work has brought other benefits. Knowing the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on people much less fortunate than herself, she gave her welcome perspective on her position.

What should i know about coronavirus? is a non-profit organization that connects people only to charities. But there are other schemes that do the same for commercial enterprises. For example, Furloughed Life, established by Techcelerate Ventures, introduces workers made redundant to tech startups in difficulty. They work for free, but start-ups pay a subscription fee to Techcelerate, half of which is donated to the National Health Service.

The Work in Start-Ups recruitment site has also created a new section on its website to provide similar service. Another platform called Look After connects communications professionals “who would prefer to put [their] ability to use and remain inactive “with both charities and businesses.

The laid-off workers are also voluntarily offering their skills on social media.

This may sound well intentioned, but some cry foul.

Freelancers and self-employed workers do not have access to the subsistence scheme and have been left short of work and income. They did not get access to the autonomous income support scheme until 13 May and some complain that they are not eligible because of its conditions.

Helen Parton, a freelance journalist who works in editorial design, believes that volunteering platforms are unfair, taking potential work away from people like her.

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Helan Parton

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Helen Parton works as an independent journalist

“I think those who are used to it should focus on learning Italian or cooking banana bread rather than trying to upset what is a rather fragile ecosystem of independent work,” he says. “Charity volunteering also opens up a broad spectrum of work and size of the organization. There is a big difference between digital copywriting for a large free charity, which could be a job that a freelancer could do on a paid basis, to literally deliver meals to vulnerable people.

“There is this great emphasis on social media that it’s time to” develop your side bustle “, but if you’re offering these skills for free – writing, photography, social media, yoga – there are people out there who do for their main business. “

Matt Dowling of the Freelancer Club, which represents 40,000 freelancers, shares this view.

“Nobody should use this crisis as an excuse to collect some free work,” he says. “Technology companies that encourage” volunteer “work create a deeply disturbing precedent and open the door to mass exploitation at a time when freelancers are immensely vulnerable.

“When it comes to charity, it’s a little more complicated,” he says, “since it’s often a personal choice on the part of the individual and involves supporting a cause they care about, so I’d never say it shouldn’t be pursued. “

Stella says she is used to working alongside freelancers and is sympathetic to their situation. It’s a problem she discussed with before signing up with them – and was reassured by their arguments.

“That’s why we’ve remained loyal to charities with our services,” says Sam Tasker-Grindley, co-founder of Furlonteer. “They don’t have bottomless pockets, they certainly don’t have the money now, so there is a definite need.”

These charities would not otherwise hire freelancers, says fellow co-founder Hamish Shephard, a serial entrepreneur who founded the Internet companies HelloFresh and Bridebook.

Furlough rules

  • The UK’s work retention program opened on April 20 and was extended until October
  • It is not possible to do any work for your employer during the work period, even if part-time work is allowed from August
  • The government pays up to 80% of your salary. The maximum claim is £ 2,500 per month per employee – from August the employer will help meet the scheme’s costs
  • Employers can top up revenue
  • You can work for other companies if this does not violate contracts
  • You can volunteer in the community or even for your company as long as you are not creating revenue or providing a service

Learn more about Furlough’s rules

In fact, Shephard believes there is a moral case for making people work by force.

“I’m not sure I should say that,” he says, “but our platform comes from a sense of anger. I felt it was unfair that I had laid-off workers sitting at home doing nothing, despite being paid more money than people as a nurse, who are endangering their lives – both financed by the taxpayer. “

For this reason he thinks people with circles have a duty to do more to help right now.

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Sam and Hamish

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Hamish Shephard and his wife Rosie are two co-founders of

And many listened to the call. has registered 2,500 people within two weeks of launching in late April. Of these, just over 500 were paired with the over 50 charities involved, including United Nations women, meals for the NHS, The Big Give and the UK Community Network.

Many of the big charities like Oxfam and Save the Children have shed most of their employees and need help, Shephard says.

“We’ve probably never seen the spirit of the community as much as now, like applause for the NHS, so why not take advantage of it? I feel it’s like a civic duty.”

Shephard also thinks that people should consider signing up to volunteer for personal interest too.

“Think about job interviews in the future, especially when we are looking at a competitive market in a possible recession,” he says. “People are forced to ask you” What did you do during the blockade? Do you really mean “Have I seen everything on Netflix?”

If you have a story about being tied up that you want to share, contact the reporter Dougal Shaw

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