Labour urged to back progressive plan for the self-employed

Progressive politicians should adopt a raft of new policies to create security and opportunity for the self-employed. The proposals are contained in a manifesto from the Fabian Society and two unions representing self-employed workers – Community and Prospect/Bectu.

Working for you: a progressive manifesto for the self-employed calls on politicians to:

  1. Create a government champion for the self-employed
  2. Match employees’ entitlements to sick pay, maternity pay, paternity pay, parental leave, adoption leave, and jobseeker’s allowance
  3. Give the self-employed the same rights as employees on health and safety, discrimination and whistleblowing
  4. Offer free training courses, make all training tax deductible and pilot a training bursary for the self-employed
  5. Build a new pension system for the self-employed, with access to Lifetime ISAs up to 60, an opt-out self-employment pension and higher tax relief
  6. Clamp down on late payments and make big business pay small traders within 60 days
  7. Restore a start-up allowance for benefit recipients scrapped in 2022
  8. Empower self-employed workers to work together in trade unions and cooperatives

The manifesto reveals that self-employed workers have been among the worst hit by years of economic turmoil, with their earnings stagnant over the last decade. Real median take-home pay for the full-time self-employed increased by only £500 per year between 2012 and 2022 – compared to £2,300 per year for employees.

Self-employed workers feel let down by government. 88 per cent of self-employed workers did not feel the support they received during the pandemic fairly reflected their tax contributions.

The self-employed will also be a vital electoral block at next year’s election. There are around one million self-employed workers in marginal constituencies. Many are swing voters. The self-employed preferred the Conservatives in 2019 but are now more likely to back Labour.

Kate Dearden, Head of Research, Policy and External Relations at Community Union said:

“More self-employed people now back Labour over the Conservatives because they know Labour have a plan that will deliver for our economy and the self-employed.

“Self-employed workers are a vital part of our economy, they drive growth across the United Kingdom in our cities, towns and villages.

“Workers across our country are facing unprecedented challenges, but this is even more pronounced for the self-employed. Incomes are falling behind those of employed workers, exposing the lack of a safety net and the income gaps for women and disabled people are greater than the already too large gap in the employed sector.

“That’s why our manifesto for the self-employed is so important. It lays out the policy roadmap that can deliver real and meaningful change for self-employed workers across our country.”

Andrew Harrop, Fabian Society General Secretary said:

“The self-employed will be a vital electoral bloc when the next election comes. But their earnings have been flatlining for years and they do not believe they receive the support they deserve for the contribution they make.

“This manifesto sets out practical ideas for how to improve working life and financial security for the self-employed. Taking inspiration from these proposals, Labour politicians can reach out to self-employed people and show they are ready to meet their needs and aspirations.”

Angela Rayner MP, Labour Deputy Leader and Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work said:

“For too long, self-employed workers have been treated by this government as nothing more than an afterthought, but they will help power Labour’s mission to secure the highest sustained growth in the G7.

“Self-employed and freelance workers come from every walk of life, and work in nearly every industry, from the arts to the tech sector, with growing numbers of women opting for self-employment. They work hard and rightly expect to be able to get on.

“Self-employed workers are vital to getting our economy growing again and seizing the opportunities of the future. They deserve respect. Never again will they be forgotten and excluded as they were during the Covid pandemic.”

Mike Clancy, General Secretary of Prospect Union, said:

“Freelancers make a vital contribution to the UK’s thriving creative industries, yet too often self-employed workers are treated as second-class citizens compared to employees.

“We need a new deal for the self-employed and Bectu members that creates a level playing field in the creative industries, and more widely.

“The recommendations in this report would go a long way to supporting freelancers so they can rely on support through the tough times, just as the government relies on the taxes they pay during the good times.”

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