Four professional bodies have written a joint letter to Rishi Sunak, urging him to introduce a freelance commissioner and future workforce commission to help a sector “in crisis.”
Trade association for the self-employed, IPSE, the Creative Industries Federation, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and Prospect wrote to the Chancellor, stating that “freelancers and creative entrepreneurs are central to the future of UK industry and our post-pandemic recovery.”
In the letter, seen by Contractor Weekly, this coalition of sector experts describe how for years “industries have embraced many different types of working arrangements, with the self-employed working alongside employees in a highly agile and effective way.”
It then explains: “These workers have enabled UK sectors like the creative industries to be highly innovative, fast-growing and world-leading, but we’re at real risk of losing these people and skills forever.”
It goes on to add: “[…] The inequity of support between these workers has undermined this relationship and has the propensity to have long-term negative impacts on our economy and society if we don’t act now.”
The letter says the National Audit Office has confirmed that millions of self-employed and freelance workers have fallen through the gaps in emergency government support, unable to claim fully from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) or the Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) at all.
As a result, the number of self-employed people in the UK has fallen from 5.1 million at the end of 2019 to 4.56 million, wiping out the growth of the last five years. According to IPSE research, nearly a quarter (23%) – equating to around 1.05 million – of the self-employed have been pushed into debt by the pandemic and 1.23 million (27%) have used up their savings just to get by.
This group of experts say establishing a freelance commissioner and future workforce commission will not cost the government much and will enable them to “really get under the skin of how we build more resilience into this workforce.”
They suggest the commission could mirror the current industry councils such as the Professional Services Council and Creative Industries Council. It would be co-chaired by government ministers and work with representatives from organisations that support this sector across all UK regions and industries.
The idea behind installing a commissioner and a commission is to “drive change in government and business, turning ideas into action and eradicating red tape.”
“We can collectively ensure that the UK champions innovation and entrepreneurism as we emerge from the pandemic and re-establish ourselves on the world stage,” the letter reads. The coalition of professional bodies has asked the Chancellor to explore their recommendation with them as soon as possible.
Derek Cribb, CEO of IPSE, said: “Our vital freelance sector is in a state of crisis. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen the biggest drop in self-employed numbers on record. Incomes have been hit hard and too many freelancers have fallen through the gaps in government support, pushing some into PAYE jobs but many more into debt and the benefits system.
“In the short-term, we continue to urge the Chancellor to fix the gaps in support and look again at the many policy proposals to help limited company directors, the newly self-employed and other forgotten groups. For the long-term, however, we are asking for a dedicated freelance commissioner – to look at freelancer support, to build the resilience of the sector and to champion the UK’s crucial freelance community.”