The self-employed are ‘time travellers from the future’

The self-employed are ‘time travellers from the future’

Chris Piggott-McKellar takes a look at the highlights from IPSE’s policy conference, Modern Working: The age of self-employment

It’s both an acronym for the Europe’s largest freelancer trade association and the Latin word for ‘self’ or ‘by oneself’ - a reference to the chosen way of working of a staggering 4.8 million people in the UK. So it was no surprise that ‘IPSE’ was trending on Twitter in April, when ministers and MPs, industry leaders and freelance champions gathered for the organisation’s flagship biennial policy conference.

The lustre of the star-studded line-up, including host Cathy Newman, chief secretary to the treasury Liz Truss MP, and leading light of the city of London and gender equality, Dame Helena Morrissey, was consistent with the increasing importance of self-employment to the UK economy.

It will come as little surprise then that a lot was said about how self-employment propels people to reach for the stars.

Liz Truss MP who in her “wilder moments dreams of being a free radical”, declared in her opening speech that the self-employed were “time travellers from the future”.

And when the conference got down to business, with Demos’s Alan Lockey launching his landmark ‘Free Radicals’ report, the analogy proved entirely apt. For too long, Lockey argued, self-employment has been marginalised: confined to the footnotes of the political agenda. Now, at 4.8 million, it is a sector simply too big to ignore.

Just like another famous time traveller, the TARDIS machine of ‘Dr Who’ fame, the UK’s self-employed population is dimensionally transcendental – meaning it is bigger than it appears from the outside.

Reminiscent of the Doctor trying to explain the nitty gritty of time travel, next up members of parliament Sir Vince Cable and Iain Duncan Smith, guided by former No 10 speechwriter Philip Collins, admirably sought to untangle the wibbly wobbly, timely wimely ball of Brexit.

Not that the audience were swayed – only four per cent of attendees said the discussion changed their view on whether Brexit would be positive or negative for the UK economy.

A panel discussion on pensions brought the conference swiftly back down to earth – only 16 per cent of self-employed are saving for later life.

Speeches from Dame Helena Morrissey and charismatic American academic and recruitment industry veteran Carl Camden (“A ‘job’ is an outdated concept which will disappear, ‘work’ however is going to increase”) were the light sources which bent the arc of attention back towards optimism.

And the audience was optimistic during a panel discussion, featuring Uber and Google representatives, on the future of work; 92 per cent of attendees did not fear their jobs would be taken by robots.

While the robots, aren’t coming quite yet, the small business commissioner, Paul Uppal, is, and he wants greater powers to fine companies who habitually make late payments. Hear hear!

All that was left was for Enterprise Nations’ Emma Jones to introduce four real stars of the future, who pitched their next great idea for the self-employed in the Dragons’ Den.

The IPSE/Demos Policy Conference took place on 25 April 2018 and was sponsored by Uber and Travers Smith.