Simon McVicker, Director of Policy and External Affairs at IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed).
This election is about Brexit. That’s what everyone is saying: there’s a deal on the table, and this election is for the country to decide on that deal. But that must not be the sole focus.
Behind all the Brexit noise, there is still a country and an economy to run. There are still millions of businesses across the UK looking from party to party to decide who will represent their interests, and who will run the economy best.
At their forefront are the UK’s five million self-employed. For a majority, the Conservatives must win the support of the country’s small businesses and self-employed.
Freelancers and the self-employed are vital to the economy. Not only do they contribute £305 billion to it every year; they also bring flexibility and productivity to businesses across the country. That should be reason enough for the Conservatives, the party of business and responsible economics, to support the interests of the self-employed. But it is also worth remembering that they are five million votes up for grabs.
To win those votes, the Conservatives must commit to policies that will genuinely support the self-employed – particularly when it comes to taxing their business.
Fundamentally, the current UK tax system simply does not work for the self-employed. It is an outdated system built with just two groups in mind: employees and employers. Now, it is struggling to keep up with modern kinds of working like self-employment.
Instead of redesigning the tax system to incorporate modern ways of working, governments over the last 20 years have tried to tinker with it. Rather than grasping the root of the problem, they have made it worse with cumbersome and damaging policies like IR35 and the hugely controversial “Loan Charge”.
Not only do these add to the already nightmarish complexity of self-employed taxes: they unjustly penalise freelancers, one of the most dynamic and productive groups in our workforce. If the Conservatives want to secure freelance votes, they must commit to turn this around. They must halt these hugely damaging policies and pledge to redesign the tax system based on employees, employers and the self-employed.
Nor is it just our outdated tax system freelancers are struggling with: there is also poor payment culture. Shockingly, IPSE research shows the average freelancer spends 20 days a year chasing clients who have not paid them on time. Worse, nearly half (43 per cent) have done work their clients have failed to pay them for. This is unacceptable.
To win the support of the self-employed, the Conservatives must pledge to turn this around. They must commit to giving more powers to the Small Business Commissioner (a post they must also fill again as quickly as possible), including fining the worst offenders.
This election, the Conservatives can make a profound difference to the self-employed, and in doing so, win the support of this five million-strong sector. It is time they stood up proudly as the party of all business: from big corporations to the small businesses and freelancers that are the beating heart of our economy.
IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) have developed a manifesto for the self-employed, with recommendations for how parties can secure freelancers’ #5millionvotes. It includes ways to support them across everything from the tax system to pensions and parental rights. Read it here.