Contractors, here’s five things the UK’s political parties should do to win your vote on July 4th

While July 4th is Independence Day for our left-pondian cousins, we hope to see it as providing a forward-thinking political party the opportunity to make it ‘Independents Day’ here in the UK, too, writes Chris Bryce, CEO of the Freelancer & Contractor Services Association (FCSA).

Our existing manifesto states our position on many aspects of the temporary labour market in the UK, and we look forward to sending a copy of this to newly appointed ministers following the general election 34 days from now.

Here’s what we believe all UK political parties need to consider and offer to enhance the freelance and contractor sector.

1. Strengthen legal and regulatory frameworks

Our sector needs clear, fair, and effective regulation.

We need policies that protect legitimate freelancers and contractors while targeting non-compliant entities that undermine the contracting industry’s reputation.

We require reforms that provide precise criteria distinguishing between employees, workers, and self-employed individuals to ensure that freelancers and contractors receive appropriate rights and obligations.

And, of course, IR35/Off-Payroll Working legislation has long been a source of frustration, confusion and contention.

A party looking for the support of the much-ignored and much put-upon freelance sector must propose both a review and an overhaul of these rules. The goal? To make them more understandable and easier to comply with, by reducing the administrative burden on contractors and engagers alike and making ‘intent’ between the contractor and engager a key factor.

2. Supporting fair taxation and financial security while recognising freelancers as distinct

Our FCSA manifesto highlights the need for a fair tax system that treats freelancers and contractors fairly compared with traditional employees.

This includes the need to consider the distinct financial risks and expenses borne by self-employed individuals -- a factor that was almost completely ignored during the covid pandemic, and which may come back to bite prime minister Rishi Sunak and his Conservatives.

Political parties, regardless of hue, need to create policies that ensure freelancers and contractors have access to pension schemes, parental leave, sickness provision and social benefits.

3. Promoting industry standards and professionalism

Our association advocates for high standards and professionalism within the freelance and contracting industry.

We want to see initiatives from our future political masters which encourage or mandate accreditation for employment businesses and payment intermediaries. This would help ensure that these entities adhere to ethical standards and provide reliable services to freelancers and contractors.

4. Enhancing business environment and opportunities

We believe it’s hard to overemphasise the need for a supportive business environment that fosters growth and innovation.

A skills-savvy and AI-aware government would also provide funding for training programs to support professional development, and help individuals stay competitive and adapt to changing market demands.

In particular, the Apprenticeship Levy receives massive funding from payment intermediaries, and we’d like to see that funding made available back to the very people who produce it.

To win the contractor vote, a party must consider how to improve access to finance for freelancers and small companies. This might involve expanding government-backed loan schemes or encouraging the creation of new financial products designed specifically for the self-employed.

We also want to see extensive investment in a robust digital infrastructure that supports remote working and connectivity, which are vital for freelancers and contractors in technology, and almost all other key industries. High-speed internet access and cybersecurity measures are critical components of this investment.

Any future government which wants the freelance vote will need to encourage the public sector to engage more independent professionals and contractors in its projects. We need a government which is prepared to move unnecessary barriers that prevent small businesses and self-employed individuals from competing for government contracts and introduce and enforce initiatives which ensure that a fair share of government work is given to contractors.

5. Addressing health and wellbeing

Freelancers and contractors often face unique challenges regarding support for their health and wellbeing.

We ask that political parties develop initiatives that provide mental health support tailored to the self-employed community and ensure that freelancers and contractors have access to affordable healthcare services. Too much of the electorate now operate freelance or partly freelance for this area of wellbeing and mental health to be ignored.

General Election 2024 for freelancers and contractors needs to go like this…

Although many commentators (including pollsters) regard the outcome of General Election 2024 as pre-determined, there’s a long way to go in the next 30-odd days and much to play for. Remember, even just a week is still a long time in politics, so no side with skin in the game can afford to be complacent and ignore our burgeoning temporary labour market.

Earlier on I mentioned the Tory party. Well, for its part, Labour has said that it “will strengthen rights and protections to help self-employed workers thrive in good quality self-employment.” We at the FCSA need to see a lot more detail from Sir Keir Starmer’s party here. So we’ll continue to work with his policy teams to help ensure Labour gets their proposals right. 

With even more certainty, I can assert that the party with the best policies for strengthening and enabling the market we operate in will likely gain votes from the 5.4 million-strong self-employed and contractor community – one of the most productive and vital sectors in the UK. And by incorporating FCSA’s recommendations into their manifesto, this party (or parties) would show that they’ve recognised just how important and valuable the contribution made by those more than five million people really is.

Lastly, here's my takeaway for the UK's political parties

My final message is this -- if one UK political party can demonstrate their serious commitment to fostering a fair, supportive, and dynamic environment for freelancers and contractors, then it might just turn what may previously been a ‘No’ into a ‘Yes’ on July 4th.

Regardless of the outcome, on July 5th, FCSA will work with whatever new government takes office and we’ll continue to work with officials to ensure that the environment for freelancing and contracting in the UK is improved.

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Written by Chris Bryce

Chris Bryce is Chief Executive of Freelancer and Contractors Services Association (FCSA) – - and was previously CEO of The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE). Before that he was a contractor for more than 25 years, and as a result has developed a keen eye for the problems faced by contractors in the post-IR35 era.

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