Labour Conference, gig economy policies and what it all means for you

Labour Party Conference has always been a politically… volatile affair – and this year was no different. No Labour conference would really be complete without a ‘gate’ and this time it was Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Angela Rayner’s turn to deliver with ‘scumgate’, in which she loudly denounced the Conservatives as ‘scum’. It also saw Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions Andy McDonald, an old Corbyn ally who spearheaded Labour’s controversial ‘single worker status’ policy – on which more later – explosively resigning just before the keynote conference speech. And finally, it saw the embattled Keir Starmer delivering that same speech and… making a thundering success of it.

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(From left to right) Rebecca Seeley-Harris, Bill Esterson, Tristan Grove and Sonali Joshi

In amid all this was IPSE, hosting two panels with SME4Labour, the Labour group organised by Ibrahim Dogus to campaign for freelancers and small and medium-sized businesses. Our panels covered the gaps in support for freelancers during the pandemic, as well as the question of the gig economy and Labour’s policy to solve this with a ‘single worker status’ for everyone except the genuinely self-employed.

Our session on the gig economy was first – one of the very first events of the conference, in fact. On our panel was Angela Eagle, a member of the Treasury Select Committee, Kate Dearden, Head of Research, Policy and External Relations at Community Union and Emma O'Dwyer, Head of Labour Relations at Uber. A key question in the session: how exactly can you distinguish between falsely and genuinely self-employed people – something Labour has yet to make clear in relation to its ‘single status’ policy.

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Dame Angela Eagle, MP

Our second session, the following day, brought together two of the leading activists who joined IPSE in the campaign to plug the gaps in support during the pandemic: Sonali Joshi, founder of Excluded UK and Rebecca Seeley-Harris, an independent tax expert who devised the Director Income Support Scheme (DISS). We were also joined by co-chair of the Gaps in Support APPG and former Shadow Business Secretary Bill Esterson. A key question here: why did government so persistently refuse to get support to limited company directors – like, as he noted, Bill Esterson’s wife? Navigating all forms of self-employment with the SEISS scheme was no doubt difficult, but it was difficult for the panellists to avoid the conclusion that, ultimately, there simply wasn’t the political will in government to help this group, who it was already persecuting with its changes to IR35.

Labour Conference is always a somewhat tumultuous event, with a rainbow of political movements and causes jostling for dominance. At least, from our perspective, IPSE’s panels managed to avoid the tumult and united attendees in support for and a desire to understand freelancers and the self-employed. And, if Labour’s ‘single worker status’ policy still leaves a lot to be desired for genuine self-employed people, our panels showed that among leading Labour figures like Bill Esterson, there is at least a definite political will to back limited company directors and the wider freelancing community.  

Meet the author

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Tristan Grove

Head of Communications and Policy Engagement

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