Empowering the Freelance Economy

“Incoherent policy” leaves freelancers out in the cold says Bectu

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs
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Bectu gives evidence in parliament on freelancer and self-employment issues

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs has attended parliament to give evidence to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee’s inquiry on UK labour markets. This forms part of the Committee’s broader inquiry into the UK’s post-pandemic economic growth, launched in June 2020.

The evidence session specifically focused on the self-employed and freelancers and considered whether the Government’s proposed Employment Bill and policies provide sufficient support to this workforce.

Childs gave evidence alongside Kate Dearden from Community union and Professor Keith Ewing from the Institute of Employment Rights. You can watch the full inquiry here.

Here is what Bectu reported from the parliamentary session:

Lack of employment bill is damaging to freelancers

Childs discussed how the lack of an employment bill (the proposed bill is currently having its second reading in the House of Commons) or coherent government policy has left many freelancers and self-employed vulnerable and without appropriate legislation to outline and protect their employment rights. Outlining the shift towards freelance work in the creative industries, she highlighted how current frameworks do not address the myriad of different types of freelancers within our economy.

Childs spoke about how the Government’s good work plan treats both employees and the self-employed on a binary basis and is not fit for purpose for the many different patterns of engagement and employment that make up the UK workforce.

Employment status and misclassification bad for the economy

Another area of concern for freelancers relates to problems around employment status and misclassification, largely due to widespread confusion about tax.

Philippa argued that more companies need to undertake proper determinations of tax without forcing their contractors into IR35 without due consideration, and therefore placing freelancers in the wrong tax bracket. A statutory definition of self-employment which includes an agreed-upon set of rights and obligations would reduce the problem of misclassification.

Impact of the pandemic on freelancers

Philippa’s evidence also laid bare the devastating impact of the pandemic, which saw tens of thousands of freelance members fall between the gaps of the Government’s Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, based on their employment status.

The pandemic exposed the lack of government support for freelancers and the self-employed, and the necessity for a safety net to ensure that freelancers are granted important employment provisions and rights, such as flexible working and parental leave.

Inquiry into the future of self-employment

In 2021, Prospect and Community launched a joint inquiry into the future of self-employment, to assess the lessons from the pandemic and explore the most pressing policy issues affecting the self-employed.

The inquiry found that 64% of self-employed workers surveyed, were either ‘less likely’ or ‘unsure’ whether they wanted to be self-employed or freelance workers in the future, following the pandemic.

The evidence session was a welcome opportunity to review the inquiry’s recommendations and demonstrate how since then, little to no progress from the government has been made.

The inquiry’s recommendations included:

  • Extend section 44 of the Employment Rights Act (1996) to cover self-employed workers
  • Extend the right to health and safety representatives at work to cover self-employed workers where appropriate
  • Explore extending Statutory Sick Pay to self-employed workers
  • Introduce the right to Statutory Sick Pay and paid parental leave from day one of a contract
  • Explore extending paid parental leave, including adoption pay, paternity and maternity pay, to self-employed workers

You can read the full report here.

Childs’s evidence showed the urgent need for a good work plan that is fit for purpose and clarification on employment status, to extend rights and provisions to the thousands of self-employed and freelancers in the creative industries.

Last November, Prospect (Bectu’s parent union) Director of Communications and Research Andrew Pakes gave evidence to the BEIS committee as part of the same inquiry, discussing the right to disconnect, data rights and the acceleration of digital technology. You can read the transcript of the session here.

What is Bectu?

Bectu is a union that represents workers in television and film, arts, theatre and galleries. It is the largest union at the BBC.

FI readers: why do you think the Conservative government has put the Employment Bill on the back burner?

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