Empowering the Freelance Economy

Freelancers leery over Future of Work Review

Albert-Azis-Clauson, co-founder of UnderPinned is hoping to educate policymakers about how the larger freelance economy works at a Future of Work Review
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An independent employment status expert has called the latest Future of Work Review “absolutely ridiculous” given the government has yet to act on findings that have come out of previous reviews.

Limited company freelancers and contractors that have been forced into umbrella company “employment” schemes are not convinced the government’s Future of Work Review will be acting in their best interests.

Many fear the review will “kick a can down the road” with little change or careful consideration of outside advice on how the freelance economy really works. Instead, they presume that those on the Review could use it as a platform for political party agendas.

These fears, if they were to come to fruition, could arguably be counterproductive to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s objectives to grow the economy with a more skilled workforce. Any policies that continue to stifle the UK’s highly skilled freelancer workforce could be ill-advised in the face of a recession.

“Tackling the economic challenges of today means helping more people into high-wage, high-skilled jobs and this review will look at how we can equip people with the skills they need to thrive in the workplace no matter where they’re from.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Albert-Azis-Clauson, co-founder of UnderPinned is hoping to educate policymakers about how the larger freelance economy works

“It is to the detriment of not only the individual company but the national economy if we cannot create systems that work well for our highest skilled workers, which disproportionately are freelancers,” says Albert Azis-Clauson, CEO of UnderPinned, an online platform and business accelerator programme for freelancers.

Azis-Clauson tells The Freelance Informer that the majority of freelancers in the UK should not have to fear IR35. That is why his business is supporting freelance workers across a wide spectrum of experience and industries to build their freelance portfolios, financial admin and engagement with fellow freelancers. What his business is not is an umbrella company or payroll business.

Azis-Clauson founded UnderPinned at the age of 22 just a few years ago. He is presenting to the government on the Future of Work Review this week in what he describes should be an educational exercise for those that have only looked at the freelancer economy from two ends of the spectrum, gig workers and long-term contractors, not everything in between.

Future of Work Review “ridiculous”

Others that have already put in the manhours on such governmental educational exercises are not so optistic. In response to the government’s launch of a review into the Future of Work led by MP Matt Warman, Rebecca Seely Harris, an independent employment status expert, says that this review “seems absolutely ridiculous considering they haven’t responded to most of the previous reviews.”

She explains:

Most of the Taylor Review recommendations have yet to be implemented, the government have yet to respond to the Employment Status consultation from 2018, and there was no Employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech this year, which would have established the Single Enforcement Body which would have protected vulnerable workers, need I go on.

The Future of Work needs to acknowledge that there has been a shift in the workforce, especially in the gig economy. In order for companies to have flexibility, they need to be able to engage skills on a temporary basis without fear of being investigated years later by HMRC. We need legislation and action not more reviews!

Rebecca Seely Harris, an independent employment status expert

Employment experts, such as Seeley Harris are becoming disillusioned by government reviews.

They have been offering their time and material evidence for years to better educate the government about how the diverse independent workforce and their end clients want to make the “future of work” a better place. But they find that the government remains to be self-serving and disregards the evidence presented because it does not fit political agendas.

Distracted by all that coffee and cheese

Take the recent call by Prime Minister Johnson for people to come back to office work so they would not be distracted like he is by making coffee and eating cheese. But isn’t the real reason that he wants office footfall is to see rail transport revenues rise?

In a Guardian article he was quoted:

“My experience of working from home is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”

He added: “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office. There will be lots of people who disagree with me, but I believe people are more productive, more energetic, more full of ideas, when they are surrounded by other people.”

Alex Hirst, co-founder of Hoxby, a 100% remote marketing agency powered by freelancers across the globe working with major brands, says the evidence of working from home and/or the freedom to work remotely doesn’t support Mr Johnson’s beliefs.

“Freedom to choose when you work improves your wellbeing and your productivity. Oh, and it’s also a lot more inclusive for society too. The people preaching loudest for a return to the office are those with the most to gain from it.”

Will the Future of Work Review help tax avoidance scheme victims?

Dave Chaplin of IR35 Shield believes that if the umbrella company industry remains unregulated contractors and the HMRC will be financially out of pocket. Industries will be scrambling for highly skilled talent, too.

“Whilst the sector remains unregulated, schemes will continue to pilfer from the pockets of freelancers, leaving the workers to pick up the bills when many years later HMRC chases the victims. This is the consequence of creating a moral hazard, on steroids..”

Chaplin has also brought to light that Bill Dodwell, Tax Director at the Office of Tax Simplification, gave evidence over two years ago to Parliament and admitted that the OTS were not even consulted about the new OPW rules before they went into the private sector. (Page 6, from Oral Evidence to Finance Bill Sub-Committee on 2nd March 2020 – https://lnkd.in/e7Y7KtD8)

Contractors growing cynical about Future of Work Review

Not surprising then that contractors from different industries are voicing their doubts over the government having any intention to create working environments that are conducive to highly skilled talent that wants to remain independent to better serve clients and the growth of their businesses.

Here are just some of their responses to a LinkedIn post about the government’s attempt to address The Future of Work and an article on the effectiveness of HMRC’s “Don’t Get Caught Out” campaign:

  • “Our government hardly thinks or cares for ordinary people.”
  • “The government doesn’t care and won’t until it hurts them not to.”
  • “They don’t care even if it does hurt them.. .because if they lose power, it then becomes the other party’s problem & they laugh from the sidelines.”
  • “Politicians and political parties have one single purpose and that’s policies on how to run the country yet none of them can come up with any clear ideas or even a mission statement on how they’d like things done. Instead, they kick cans down the road or into long grass with promises of reviews and jam tomorrow. It’s time we include none of the above on ballot papers.”
  • “It is weird that contractors inside IR35 are meant to foot employer NI contributions when they are NOT an employer and the agency is. Employers never charge fees to handle your finances but here they do. Our government hardly thinks or cares for ordinary people.”

IPSE to contribute to Future of Work Review findings

Andy Chamberlain of IPSE

Contractors may be growing cynical over the government’s true agenda of the Future of Work Review, but IPSE is being more optimistic about the possibilities.

Andy Chamberlain, Director of Policy at IPSE says: “We are delighted the government has launched this review and we look forward to contributing to the report’s findings. Technological changes such as automation and virtual working, as well as a shift in attitudes to work which has been compounded by the pandemic, mean that traditional 9-to-5 employment is likely to become less common. 

“It is essential that policymakers understand these changes so that they can design public policy around how people increasingly want to shape their working lives,” says Chamberlain.

“We also hope that this new review builds on the work done by Matthew Taylor in 2017. The government remains committed to carrying out several of Taylor’s recommendations, not least of which is clarifying employment status rules which continue to cause a great deal of confusion and disruption for workers and hirers alike.

“Freelancers and the self-employed have always played a key role in lifting the UK out of economic downturns and can play an even bigger role in the labour market of tomorrow. If harnessed effectively, the dynamism and flexibility which is inherent in freelancing can drive economic growth, not just for the individuals who choose this way of working, but for the country as a whole,” says Chamberlain.

What would you like to come out of The Future of Work Review? Please leave your comments

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