Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been urged to use his upcoming Budget to give greater security to self-employed workers and prevent a possible ‘exodus’ from self-employment in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

The recommendation is made in a new report from the Inquiry into the Future of Self Employment, which is backed by screen industries trade union Bectu’s parent union Prospect, Community trade union and the Federation of Small Businesses and included a panel of experts from business, the world of work and across the political spectrum.

Covid-19 has shone a light on the precarious nature of self-employment, and many have fallen through the cracks of government support and been left without assistance for nearly a year. Bectu has been campaigning for a new deal for freelancers and has frequently called upon the Government to address the flaws of the SEISS and create secure provisions for the self-employed.

The Inquiry found that a majority of self-employed workers were unsure about continuing to freelance in the future, with a clear appetite for a stronger safety net if they are to continue.

If these workers did decide to give up on their business in favour of more secure working conditions, the impact on the recovery from the pandemic could be drastic, the Inquiry warns.

The package of recommended policy measures includes:

  • Ending the exclusions from the government’s income support packages
  • Extending health and safety rights at work, sick pay, and paid parental leave to the self employed
  • Changes to Universal Credit and the pensions system so they work for the self employed
  • A new Commissioner for the Self Employed in government to coordinate policy efforts
  • Redrawing definitions of self-employment to be more inclusive, and delaying controversial IR35 rules which will cause more uncertainty

As part of their research the Inquiry conducted a survey of over 2,200 self-employed workers. Key findings included:

  • 46% said they were less likely to continue in self-employment due to their experience in the pandemic (18% unsure, 36% likely to continue)
  • 88% said the level of pandemic support for the self-employed was not a fair reflection of their tax contribution
  • 79% would oppose the equalisation of National Insurance Contributions between employees and the self-employed (21% support)
  • But 51% would support paying more out of their wages in exchange for a stronger safety net (12% oppose)
  • 75% do not believe they have sufficient workplace rights compared to employees (15% believe they do have sufficient rights)

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: “Workers in the creative industries have been left with little to no support from government schemes in the last year, resulting in a financial crisis for freelancers across the UK.

“There is a lack of understanding of how self-employment works in practise, which has led to schemes that don’t fit the reality of working life for many Bectu members.

“I urge the Chancellor to take on board the recommendations in this report, end the exclusion of millions of freelancers from government income support packages, and set out a new deal for freelancers and the self-employed for the future.”

 

Jon Creamer