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Snowy parliament AccountingWEB Election manifestos leave freelance workforce out in the cold
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Election manifestos leave freelance workforce out in the cold

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Dave Chaplin looks into the election manifestos and is disappointed to see that freelancers will be feeling the chill as they are overlooked by major parties. 

20th Jun 2024
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As the general election campaign enters its final furious weeks, the major political parties have unveiled their manifestos, laying out their visions and policy proposals. However, one key segment of the UK workforce appears to have been largely overlooked – the nation's freelancers, contractors, and self-employed individuals.

The manifestos have fallen woefully short in addressing the critical issues facing this vital part of the economy.

Conservative’s ‘weak attempt’ at making amends

The Conservative manifesto included a pledge to cut the main rate of national insurance (NI) for the self-employed. However, this is too little too late from a government that has systematically let down and betrayed freelance workers over the past decade. 

Moreover, abolishing NI for the self-employed will benefit sole traders, not the task force of contractors who we remember were also ignored during the pandemic.

The IR35 reforms have placed a massive burden on business and UK plc and have impeded economic growth, not facilitated it. The Conservatives have long portrayed themselves as the party of small business and entrepreneurialism, who are they kidding after years of policy decisions have punished and shackled this group of workers.

Labour's lack of vision 

If the Conservative proposals represented an inadequate olive branch, then Labour's manifesto didn’t do much better. Despite Labour leader Keir Starmer's pledges to "transform the nature of the job market," there was a stark absence of any mention of self-employed workers or their priorities.

If Labour is truly aiming for economic growth, the party needs to acknowledge the value of the self-employed and how they prop up our economy, particularly in the face of economic challenges. 

I would urge Labour, which is the party most likely to be handed the keys to Number 10 in a matter of weeks, to unshackle the freelance workforce and allow those workers to be their own boss, give them the freedom to operate their own businesses unimpeded.  

Liberal Democrats on the freelance side

In contrast to Labour's silence, the Liberal Democrats must be praised for promising to address key freelancer priorities. Their manifesto included pledges to "end retrospective tax changes such as the loan charge" and to "review the government's off-payroll working IR35 reforms to ensure self-employed people are treated fairly."

Sir Ed Davey must be applauded for this stance. He has always understood the importance of the flexible workforce and supported freelancers so a move to review IR35 which is proving to be a disaster based on an outdated HMRC concept of "deemed employment" that simply does not work is welcome.

Reform acknowledges freelancers

Nigel Farage wants to abolish the controversial IR35 rules which is also welcome news for contractors. However, with the party projected to win only a handful of seats, their ability to implement meaningful reforms will be limited unless they can sway other parties to their position.

A deafening silence on a critical workforce

Across all three major party manifestos, I detected a "deafening silence" on key issues impacting the freelance workforce that underpins many sectors of the UK economy. 

From the Conservative’s supposed party of entrepreneurship to Labour's economic transformation vision, we expected to hear more about their plans to support the UK's flexible workforce and most fell short.

The flexible workforce is not asking for special treatment, just a level playing field and policies built on a modern understanding of how they operate, rather than being shackled by outdated assumptions of "disguised employment."

Whichever party forms the next government, I implore them to finally open their eyes to the immense value the self-employed bring to UK plc. We need a comprehensive vision for nurturing this entrepreneurial talent pool, reforming IR35 and compliance issues, and fostering an environment where freelancers can thrive.

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By Paul Crowley
24th Jun 2024 17:46

Did you miss the NI for self employed by the Tories?

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