News & views

Need help now?

Our advice centre has a lot of the information you need.

Read more

Supporting me as a self-employed worker

Helen Stephens
Helen Stephens
10th March 2021

I’d been self-employed for 10 years, and back then I couldn’t see why I would need a union.

I understood journalists joining the NUJ, and firefighters joining the FBU. Freelancers work across different industries and for some there will be a union that represents them like the Writers Guild or Musicians Union. Which union do you join if you’re self-employed in the social economy?

As a freelancer, running a social enterprise, dividing my time between administrative duties, facilitating workshops and making websites, I didn’t have a specific trade or sector. Finding a suitable union to represent me felt impossible.

I first registered as self-employed in 2010 when I was facing redundancy. I’d been working in the Voluntary & Community Sector as a Communications Officer, at a time when relatively few community businesses had websites, so I decided to start my own social enterprise, providing affordable web design and digital marketing to voluntary sector organisations.

It was Community’s commitment to supporting self-employed people with pension schemes, that won me over. Throughout the Covid19 pandemic, I’ve finally understood the benefit of joining a union. I have been reassured by regular correspondence from Community and its fight, on our behalf, to secure the Self Employed Income Support Scheme and the continuing fight to recognise those that have fallen through the cracks of the Government’s grant eligibility policy.

That got me thinking about the kind of support self-employed workers need. I joined Community because they had a scheme to assist self-employed workers set up pensions. It was something. I reached out and asked how I could be more involved. I don’t have a work place so there’s no union reps, how do I work with the union? How do we meet up and share ideas, support each other?

A few months later we held our first Self Employed members meet up, formed a committee and now we meet monthly to discuss policy and strategy towards improving rights for self-employed workers.

Given the role community businesses will likely play in rebuilding the economy post-lockdown, it’s crucial that we have a union fighting for more support and allowances for the way social entrepreneurs operate, because unnecessary barriers will stifle the growth of the social economy and our local communities will suffer.

Now that I have a union that represents me, I understand the strength in bringing people with shared experiences together, to change things for the better.