Empowering the Freelance Economy

Could the political party that gives a damn about freelancers and their contribution to the economy please stand up?

Why should Anne Robinson's choice to quit game show countdown be a lesson to all freelancers, politicians and policy makers? / Photo Source: Channel 4 Press
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OPINION

When a nation’s employment options and freelancer freedoms are taken away from them, everyone suffers, including The Treasury and oddly enough, Countdown viewers. Katherine Steiner-Dicks highlights concerns over growing discrimination against the self-employed in the labour market and what it is doing to Great Britain’s economy and ageing workforce.


Anne Robinson, freelance TV presenter and unapologetic straight talker, is considered a beacon of hope for most freelancers not just because she is one, but because she has stayed true to her freelancer freedoms even at the age of 77.

Robinson, who over the past year has been a freelance presenter for Channel 4’s game show Countdown, has called it quits at the show when her broadcasting client insisted she turn her back on her freelance career and join its company payroll. They’d even throw in a pay rise as a sweetener if she did.

Robinson said no thanks. She told The Sun:

I come from a long line of alcoholic, Irish bandits so to suggest I go PAYE is a bit like asking Philip Green or Richard Branson to join the company payroll.

Robinson added that she “wasn’t interested in any offer on that basis,” even if it included a pay rise.

Back in February 2021, when Channel 4 announced Robinson would be in the show’s “hot seat”, she said like only she could:

“I am beyond thrilled to be joining Countdown. The show is almost as old as I am and just as historic. I am particularly excited to be working alongside the Show’s two other formidable women.  Worryingly, Susie and Rachel are not only very smart but younger, prettier and thinner than me. Sadly, there’s no time for another face lift so I’ll have make do with this old one.”

Image source: Channel 4 Press

Taking away freelancer freedoms is hurting the ageing population

Most people at Robinson’s age of 77 in Great Britain are retired. Yet many are finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet on their pensions due to inflation and feel they have no choice but to try to get a part-time job at the local supermarket or local shops.

But what if they had more options? What if they lived in a nation that embraced freelancers and the self-employed regardless of age or gender? Had multiple political parties that did everything in their powers to eradicate any form of labour market discrimination against freelancers and solopreneurs?

In other words, scrap the flawed and counterproductive tax grab that is IR35/Off-Payroll legislation and its interrelated unregulated umbrella company racket?

For one, Countdown viewers would still be entertained by Robinson’s quick-witted banter, and two, freelancers and someday freelancers could see a brighter economic future for Britain.

“Channel 4 and Anne Robinson may have fallen victim to the flawed legislation, called Off-payroll working, often referred to as “IR35”, responded Dave Chaplin, CEO of IR35 Shield.

“As the National Audit Office (NAO) report into the so-called ‘reforms’ identified in February, unlike its predecessor the legislation is missing key provisions relating to tax offsets, resulting in a massively disproportionate risk to firms that hire freelancers who operate via their own limited companies. As a result, many firms are banning freelancers who operate this way,” said Chaplin.

Many contractors who can work remotely are now shunning the UK, and just working remotely for overseas firms, making it much harder for UK firms to secure the talent they need to grow. And UK firms are pushing work offshore.

These so-called reforms, introduced by the Conservative Government, are anti-business. The poorly drafted legislation is creating a very negative behavioural effect for UK Plc.

Dave Chaplin, CEO of IR35 Shield

Blanket bans are even shadier than first thought

Blanket bans on contractors are taking a new and discriminatory shape. A Freelance Informer reader and out of work project manager (PM) contractor wrote in this week relaying that a “reputable” recruitment firm contacted her about a permanent role. However, as soon as the recruiter found out that the candidate’s career was as a contractor, the recruiter told her she shouldn’t apply for the permanent role.

The company recruiting wanted only a PM with a permanent background as they had been ‘burnt before’. My reaction was this was discriminatory. I had in fact completed long term contracts with several leading companies.

PM contractor

“I am also finding due to IR35 I can longer apply for roles as I would have as most now seem to be inside IR35, whether they should be or not,” the contractor told FI via email.

“These [inside IR35] roles require travel and accommodation to fulfil,” the FI reader said, “which companies won’t pay for and which I can longer use my Limited company to claim through,” said the contractor.



Politicians that turn a blind eye will stifle the economy

Arguably, any politician serving the people of Great Britain who sits idly and does nothing about the preservation of the self-employed and their freedoms has only themselves and their counterparts to blame when the economy is in an even sadder state of affairs than it is now – at the emergence of the Cost of Living crisis – and a war in Europe.

Do policymakers, HMRC and corporate UK, really want a return to the depressed economic times of the 1970s? I don’t know about you, but the only thing I would like to relive of the 70s is its musical genius and childhood freedoms before helicopter parenting and playdates became a necessity.

High Streets Task Force expert Dr Jackie Mulligan, and founder of ShopAppy surely does not want a return of those grim, strike-ridden times.  

“Small businesses are the bedrock of communities and more importantly our national economy and more needs to be done to support them,” says Mulligan.

Dr Jackie Mulligan is an expert working with the government to improve the standing of independent retailers on UK high streets, markets and online.

Mulligan continued: “The stories that lie behind these dire [insolvency] stats is my biggest worry. For many small businesses, this is not just a commercial but a personal blow, and one that will impact their lives and that of their families for some time. There is simply not enough being done to counter the long-term impacts of Covid lockdowns and the onslaught of rising costs for small businesses right now.”

Marcus Wright, MD of Bolton Business Finance also finds the latest company insolvency data extremely worrying. This, of course, is news running parallel with blanket bans on limited company freelancers and reports of umbrella company fraud.

Many businesses are out of the frying pan and into the fire, with inflation out of control, countless supply chain issues and energy at unsustainable prices, and that’s evident in this [insolvency] data.

Marcus Wright, MD of Bolton Business Finance

A lot of businesses that were propped up by Government Covid grants and support are now running out of money and are having to call it a day, said Wright.

“Expect the data to worsen, potentially materially, during the second quarter. For many businesses, the current headwinds are a bridge too far,” he said.

Its perhaps the take of Svend Pearce, founder of Watford-based small business accountant and bookkeeper, Bficient that reminds me of just how close the economy is to the precipice of a recession:

“Amid the cost-of-living crisis, and after two years of the pandemic, household finances are under a phenomenal amount of pressure. For small business owners, household and business finance are intertwined and they are experiencing reduced sales at the exact same time that they need more money to cope with rising bills at home. We anticipate more individual insolvencies as we proceed through 2022.”


Here’s the latest The Insolvency Service’s latest company and individual insolvency data.


Have you been impacted by IR35 or a missed job opportunity because of your career as a freelancer?

💬 Share in the comments section or get in touch to get your story heard at editor@freelanceinformer.com

2 Comments
  1. S. Lloyd-Packer says

    I thought it was Dawn Primerolo of the Labour Party that first introduced IR35 ? Not the Conservatives as Dave Chaplin says.

  2. Tina says

    Dawn, yes. Remember the postal bombardment she received from contractors who moved abroad, as a result of ‘her’ IR35? The underlying problem is that no political party takes responsibility for anything, and its very tricky to track the exact course of this legislation. Too easy to slope shoulders and blame someone else, and the policy narrative is so convulted, dips into and out of the Lords, back around and through again, rehashed, revised, etc. Party change, structure change, wording change, re-release. On and on. Actually – its both Labout as the trigger and Conservatives as the consolidators. There are also suggestions that Infosys & Mr Sunak have a hand in some additional ammendments being brewed for insertion post the next election.

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