Political candidates and parties need to stand up and take note of the UK’s flourishing contract and freelance sector both before and after the ballots close for the General Election on 8 June.
This is according to Chris Bryce, chief executive of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE), who believes there has been a distinct lack of recognition for the good work carried out by the UK’s self-employed workforce, both in manifesto pledges and during campaigning.
“There needs to be recognition in Parliament that the self-employed are here to stay and are a massive part of the UK economy. Parties need to consider how their policies apply to this workforce – which makes up 15% of employment as a whole – before shooting off at the mouth, and right now we’re not entirely convinced that they are.”
Bryce confirms that IPSE, which has recently released its own manifesto, ‘A Contract with the Self-Employed’, will continue to campaign just as hard for greater recognition for the self-employed after Government is elected this coming Thursday.
Election campaigns fail to acknowledge contingent workforce
Putting himself in the shoes of a contractor making his mind up about who to vote for, Bryce claims no candidate in particular would stand out above the rest. This, he says, is down to the wildly inaccurate - yet not uncommon - misinterpretation of the self-employed sector amongst political parties:
“It seems to me that many parties are all too happy to assume the narrative that all the self-employed are some sort of weak underclass who need protection, and as we all know that’s far from the truth. They are a diverse group; some need support, but many just want to be allowed to get on with running their business.”
Bryce’s comments come after what he believes to be an oversight by political parties, with many quick to offer support to gig-economy workers whilst largely overlooking the 2m highly-skilled self-employed who contributed £119bn to the UK economy last year.
Brexit negotiations key for UK contract sector
Another area requiring immediate attention is the UK’s negotiation out of the EU. Ensuring that the UK contract sector continues to thrive post-Brexit is a key part of IPSE’s manifesto, and Bryce says the importance of delivering a good deal can’t be underestimated:
“We need to make sure whoever is in power is able to get a good deal for the UK, and particularly the self-employed. The contract sector needs to be able to stay mobile and retain its flexibility, so the free movement of these skilled professionals across Europe is crucial for us.
“It’s also clear that contingent professionals will have a large role to play in both negotiating and implementing Brexit, and Government shouldn’t shy away from enabling freelancers to work on their behalf.”
How can the self-employed plan for retirement?
IPSE is urging Government to press ahead with plans to deliver infrastructure and fast broadband - a pledge seemingly synonymous across all party manifestos – as well as offering support to young and aspiring contractors.
However, Bryce is also quick to highlight the requirement for pension provisions for the self-employed. One of the perks of contracting is most contractors earn substantial day rates, meaning they are able to store away significant sums for the future. However, IPSE’s research shows that 37% of its members don’t even have a pension.
Whilst Bryce acknowledges that the self-employed must take responsibility for their own affairs, he says Government should be making more of an effort to incentivise saving amongst this sector:
“The Government needs to acknowledge that with the right support the contribution of the self-employed will continue to grow. One way to do this is to support them in retirement. We propose a wide-ranging review into incentivising pensions for the self-employed, which considers potential solutions such as auto-enrolment and a portable benefits system.”
IR35 headlines tax initiatives for IPSE
Inevitably, taxation plays a major part in IPSE’s manifesto, which sets out proposals for a strategic review of the tax system chaired by an independent expert, addressing issues such as National Insurance and the Government’s ‘Making Tax Digital’ regime. However, Bryce warns that the more immediate threat is IR35:
“We clearly need some damage control around IR35, especially considering the impact it has had on the public sector. We desperately need the Government to address this and respond accordingly with a more considered strategy.
“We are seeing some evidence that individual Government departments are taking their foot off the pedal somewhat in response to the damage being caused to public sector projects. With any luck this will be fed back up to cabinet office who will hopefully endorse a more thought-out approach.”
General Election could yield new opportunities to contractors
The build up to the snap election has given IPSE an unexpected opportunity to bring its ideas to the table and attempt to bring about change for UK contractors, but Bryce notes that this is just the beginning:
“We’ve sent a manifesto to every single parliamentary candidate for all the major parties. We’ve sent one to every business editor and political journalist. And on June 9 we’ll find a new cabinet in place. Soon enough they’ll wake up in the morning and find a copy of our manifesto on their doorstep, and my colleagues and I will be in touch to meet with them.”