#Lab21: We need a vision for the self-employed

The experience of our self-employed workers during the pandemic has been incalculable. The overwhelming evidence and experiences of thousands of self-employed workers over the last year and a half have showed us that the SEISS fell far short of its goal of being a financial lifeline through the pandemic.

Millions of people across the country found themselves without support, or with limited support, during the toughest economic period in our modern history.

They were excluded from government support for reasons such as being newly self-employed, having only part of their income being made from self-employment, or for being a director of their own company.

Not only have many self-employed workers been excluded from support, but they have also been an afterthought during this pandemic. When the government announced the job retention scheme, almost a week later they announced details of the SEISS leaving millions of self-employed workers in the dark about what support in the months ahead would look like.

A combination of these experiences and treatment from a government that should be there to support them in times of crises have consequences. Our joint inquiry with Prospect and the FSB into the future of self-employment showed that more than half of self-employed people have lost between 60% and 100% of their income since the start of the pandemic.

More than 70% had been unable to access benefits, often because savings set aside for healthcare, pensions or tax bills ruled them out. Around half said they were less likely to want to work freelance in future. That is deeply unfair to the workers themselves, but also represents an existential threat to the entire industry.

Our self-employed workforce is the hidden backbone of the British economy. They make up roughly 15% of our workforce and are pivotal to the UK’s fastest growing and most innovative industries such as in science, engineering, healthcare, the arts, entertainment, the media and to the delivery of other important services across the country.

This year, the self-employed will contribute an estimated £125bn in turnover to the UK’s economic recovery. The contribution that self-employed workers make to our country and local economies is vital, but the last year has been terrible for many self-employed workers in this country.

We need a new deal for the almost four million self-employed across the UK, and for them to finally get the fair treatment and support they need and deserve.

Self-employed workers are workers, and it’s time for our government to start treating them like it.

We need a recognition that the pandemic, and subsequent economic fallout, is not over and for the government to step up and support self-employed workers. We need greater security for the self-employed, including by extending benefits like parental leave and sick pay.

Most crucially the Labour Party must become the party of the self-employed, offering an alternative to a Conservative government that has repeatedly failed them.

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