15 per cent of the British workforce are now self-employed but this often comes at the cost of job security and employer obligations such as pensions and sick pay.
Britain is currently going through a self-employment boom. Jobs growth is increasingly coming from the self-employed sector — over 4.7m people are self-employed now, double the figure from 30 ago — however this comes at the cost of workers’ rights.
Self-employment is often heralded as a triumph for more flexible working patterns, allowing people with caring or childcare responsibilities to work on their own terms, and perhaps help those returning to work after prolonged periods of unemployment.
According to the Taylor report on modern working practices, the number of freelancing mothers has risen 79% in the last eight years, for example.
Many have used these figures to argue that workers are actively choosing self-employment over more traditional working practises. But it’s an astonishing false equivalence to declare that self-employment is favoured as a form of employment simply because it is on the rise.
For example, in an article in The Guardian recently, the deputy director of the Association of Independent Professionals and The Self-Employed (IPSE) concluded that ‘on the whole, people like being self-employed’. Why this would the case is unclear, however.
If it is greater flexibility British workers are looking for, for example, the ability to take medical appointments without having to use annual leave, then this could be easily achieved through traditional employment.
Legislation which requires employers to treat their employees as people with priorities and responsibilities outside of their workplace, would achieve the same ends without any of the instability and potential for exploitation that self-employed status brings.
More and more, employers are using self-employed contracts as a means to avoid providing adequate pay, working conditions, and prevent the unionisation of their workers.
Uber is a prime example of this kind of business model, and although its recent loss of contract from operating in London has been celebrated by many as a triumph for worker’s rights, the issue was barely mentioned in the official statement on the issue.
Demonstrating that the precarious nature of this kind of work is still not recognised as ultimately detrimental to people’s lives and the resilience of the economy overall.
Of course, there are many self-employed people who choose self-employment for all of its relative merits; translators and writers and multiple other professions for whom it makes perfect sense for them to have total control of their working hours.
For the majority of people however, these working conditions bring instability and a lack of rights afforded to permanent employees in traditional work places.
This is as equally inadequate as the constraints placed on full-time permanent employees, what is needed is not an increase in self-employment in the way we know it to be, but a complete overhaul of worker’s rights legislation.
Traditional workplaces need to be more flexible, and allow their employees to have a human element to their working lives whilst still supporting them with sick pay, and consistent working hours and salaries.
On the other hand, those who are self-employed need to have an enhancement of their rights around the demands put on them by the companies and customers they work for.
An increased reliance on precarious working hours and pay is not sustainable or good for the health of the UK economy, it is also morally indefensible after austerity has left so many so vulnerable and struggling.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.