From the lobby: Fractures, fissures and the future of the self-employed

From the lobby: Fractures, fissures and the future of the self-employed


With an EU transition deal finally agreed and pretty much all politicians (with the vocal exception of comrade Corbyn) united in their condemnation of Russia, you could be forgiven for thinking that today Britain is more unified than at any time since Brexit. Darkest Hour has just rolled off our screens, Theresa

May is standing up against ‘corrupt elites’ in ‘our country’, and Churchill-wannabe-in-chief Boris Johnson is giving interviews in front of Spitfires. You can almost smell the warm English crumpets wafting out over the white cliffs of Dover!

If overall this kingdom is starting to look a little more united, its main political parties seem to have missed the memo. The Conservative response to the transition agreement seems to be, if anything more, enthusiasm for the long-term project of tearing themselves apart over Brexit. The biggest bone of contention?

The government’s transitional deal on fishing, which Leave has described as an “abject, disgusting betrayal”, and Douglas Ross MP said “it would be easier to get someone to drink a pint of sick than try to sell this as a success.” Colourful imagery all round. And leading the charge, of course, was the Honourable Member for the 18th Century, Jacob Rees-Mogg, saying the government had “rolled over” when it “hasn’t had its tummy tickled”.

While ‘Moggmentum’ is raising a stink in the Conservative Party, its all-red progenitor Momentum is causing trouble in Labour. With Labour’s ruling council, the National Executive Committee, now dominated by Momentum, to some moderates it’s starting to look like their worst Stalinist nightmares could come true. After all, it has deselected their first moderate: Sir Robin Wales, who has been the Labour mayor of Newham for the last 23 years.

It’s not just overt Corbyn-sceptics Momentum have been causing a stir with: for a while the race for party general secretary set Momentum founder Jon Lansman head to head against Jennie Formby, an organiser for Unite.

So, looking across the country, it’s less a nation unite than politics fractured. But what about the self-employed: how does this rocky political landscape affect them?

The self-employed star

While Labour’s activists have been embroiled in infighting this month, one of the party’s MPs has been reshaping the law from the backbenches to help the self-employed. The former actress and Corrie star Tracy Brabin, now Labour MP for Batley and Spen, has led a campaign to help self-employed parents.

Winning support from everyone from Maria Miller to Coldplay’s Chris Martin, she brought her campaign to a head with a bill to extend shared parental leave to the self-employed. If it’s passed, it will not only allow self-employed dads to take time off to see their children; it will also help self-employed mums maintain their businesses.

There was another boom for self-employed parents this month – this time from HMRC (and yes, you read that right). The taxmen have decided to take a softer approach to working self-employed parents. It announced that all working parents – including the self-employed – can now receive a tax-free childcare allowance of £2,000.

It's Taylor time (finally)

The sector as a whole could be on course for several significant wins. That’s because, seven months after its initial publication, the government has finally responded to the Taylor Review.

There seems a lot to be optimistic about as it has recognised the need to address major, long-standing issues like the uncertainty about employment status and the need for more support for the self-employed.

The only recommendation the government didn’t take forward was the one that could have been a significant threat to the self-employed sector: taking steps to equalise employee and self-employed taxes. Accepting 52 out of 53 recommendations: that’s not bad. Of course, that didn’t stop Taylor himself rating the response just four out of 10…

The main outcome of the Review will be four major government consultations, on: employment status, increasing transparency in the labour market, agency workers and enforcement of employment rights. Although you might raise questions about a review leading to essentially more reviews… the government does seem to be moving in the right direction on this. For Taylor, if the consultations are “productive”, his score “may move up to seven or eight”.