Four reasons to fight for the contract workforce

Refreshingly, the Labour party last month said it must reach out to the self-employed, with their ‘Red Shift’ group believing the party to be doomed to failure unless it adapts to the new world of working people, writes Julia Kermode, chief executive of the Freelancer & Contractor Services Association.

They have acknowledged that the world of work has dramatically altered with an increasing number of people choosing to work flexibly, naming ‘mum-preneurs’ and Uber drivers as examples. It will be interesting to see whether this ‘Red Shift’ movement gathers momentum and delivers Labour policies that will truly support the self-employed and other people who work for themselves. 

But it’s not just politicians on the opposition benches who keep  waxing lyrical about the value of the flexible workforce. Conservative MP and Business Secretary Sajid Javid, for example, delivered a resounding inaugural speech extolling the virtues of entrepreneurs, and confirmed what we already knew – that economic recovery is not attributable to politics but  to the hard work of individuals. 

And yet despite both this and recognition of freelancers, contractors and the self-employed in the election campaign by all political parties, the independent work sector is now faced with a barrage of initiatives that have the potential to significantly hurt the same hard-working individuals that the government claims to support. All of us involved in supporting freelancers and contractors are spending our summer evenings unpicking the nuances of the four-fold onslaught, as we try to decipher technicalities to establish the true impact of proposals.

Earlier today I felt defeated by it all, and started to wonder what the point is.  Why bother? 
 
Because the UK’s flexible workforce CONSTITUTES 20% OF WORKERS
Because the UK’s flexible workforce ENABLES BUSINESSES TO BE AGILE
Because the UK’s flexible workforce is ESSENTIAL TO ECONOMIC RECOVERY
Because the UK’s flexible workforce is MISUNDERSTOOD BY GOVERNMENT

Ultimately, it is the misunderstanding that I care about. I believe that the government does value the flexible workforce, at least the MPs I meet with certainly do. However, the reality is that there are many complexities within our sector and the mechanics of engaging the flexible workforce are not straightforward. It can be difficult enough for so-called ‘experts’ to grasp the finer points, let alone MPs and civil servants. So that leaves the likes of us and the freelance workforce themselves to educate and help them understand. 

In fact, we each have a responsibility to use the now open consultations to point out unintended consequences, even if it seems like hard work and that we are repeating the usual messages. So if you’re reading this, then I’d urge you to consider responding to the IR35 ‘discussion document’ and the proposal to remove tax relief on expenses for ‘SDC’ contractors. Otherwise, if we fail to act, we risk endangering the very workforce which is so important to our livelihoods, our country’s prosperity and its future.

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Written by Julia Kermode

Julia is a podcaster, network builder and campaigner with a passion for the rights of all independent workers.  Like many people, the pandemic made Julia re-evaluate her purpose, and she founded IWORK to support and champion the UK's army of temps, agency workers, gig economy workers, contractors and the self-employed. 
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