Political parties should extend the rights of the self-employed ahead of the country's general election on 12 December, including scrapping IR35 off-payroll working rules and addressing late payments.
This is the rallying cry from IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed), which today launched a manifesto for the 2019 General Election.
The organisation points out there are now around five million freelancers in Britain, a sector it claims could be a significant vote-winner. It is worth noting that a large number will include lower paid "gig economy" workers, unlikely to be affected by the same taxation issues as IT contractors.
Alasdair Hutchison, policy development manager at IPSE, said there is a "whole diversity of people who are freelancers and self-employed", with his employer having proposed a range of policy suggestions.
IPSE is calling on whoever wins the UK general election on 12 December to:
- Build a modern tax system: a full review of small business tax (including scrapping IR35 and ending the confusion over the Loan Charge) to unleash the UK's entrepreneurial spirit.
- End the culture of late payment: give the Small Business Commissioner more powers to clamp down on late payment – including "naming and shaming" and even fining the worst offenders.
- Identify solutions for saving in later life: work with industry to create products that are tailored to help the self-employed put money away for retirement.
- Update freelancers' parental rights: Extend Shared Parental Leave (SPL) to the self-employed and give them the same paternity/maternity pay rights as employees.
- Incentivise workhubs to boost the high street: help revive Britain's struggling high streets by providing financil benefits for the creation of workhubs in empty premises.
Simon McVicker, IPSE director of policy and external affairs, said all parties should be listening to the needs of the self-employed and outlining policies that will make a difference to them.
"The self-employed could prove decisive in dozens of marginal constituencies across the UK. All parties would do well to remember this and IPSE will be working hard during the campaign to get the message out there."
However, Dave Chaplin, CEO of ContractorCalculator – which provides guidance for freelancers – noted that higher-paid contractors do not necessarily need an extension of rights across the board.
"Freelancers charge more than their permanent counterparts, because they don't get rights and the security of permanent employment. This 'freelance premium' is already built into the fees they charge.
"They should be putting money aside to be used for unexpected downtime, and can take out income protection insurance if they wish to further minimise risk. I see no reason to give the self-employed extra rights, but am in favour of giving rights to those classified as workers in law."
However, he added that there are still many good reasons for scrapping IR35 legislation. "IR35 is placing a huge burden on all businesses, including small ones, and stifles UK innovation," he said.
Seb Maley, CEO of insurance and tax adviser Qdos, said: "Certainly, contractors working inside IR35 – where they are taxed as an employee – must be handed employment rights. Currently, when operating under the IR35 rules, contractors – many of whom have been wrongly placed inside IR35 in the public sector – are taxed as if they are employees but receive no employment rights in return.
"This is completely illogical and unjust and must be resolved. The government has spoken about aligning tax status and employment rights in the past, but with IR35 reform less than six months away, plans to offer contractors rights in return for paying tax effectively as an employee must be implemented."
He added that, given the diverse nature of the UK's entire self-employed population, it isn't a black-and-white issue. "But it is a topic that needs to be discussed. As the general election approaches, the vote of the independent workforce has arguably never been more influential. Politicians would be naive not to take this into account." ®