Lib Dem Manifesto fires the starting gun on ideas for the self-employed

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As the TV debates have so far proved, this election campaign has been almost exclusively fought on soundbites, not on public policy ideas. If we are serious as a country about holding our politicians to account, we must have greater trust in the electorate to understand and critically evaluate serious, substantive ideas for public policy development.

Thankfully, this week marks the launch of the parties’ manifestos. And with it, hopefully, the moment when we start debating the details of how a future government will tackle many of the major issues facing the UK.

When it comes to self-employment, it’s an opportunity for the parties to fully explain their plans for the sector. These 4.3 million individuals represent both voters and businesses, making them politically engaged and desperate to see serious thinking on issues that could make or break their businesses.

Just yesterday, the Liberal Democrats were the first mainstream party to set out their stall for how they would support the self-employed.

So, what can the self-employed expect from the Lib Dems and does it go far enough in unleashing the vast potential of the sector?

“Review the government’s off-payroll working IR35 reforms to ensure self-employed people are treated fairly”

One of the most eye-catching policies for the self-employed will be the promise to review the IR35 reforms. It was the words that followed this that will have spiked the most interest from the sector – promising the review will ensure self-employed people are treated fairly.

We’ve previously had then-Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng talk about the impact of the reforms on businesses, so it is welcome that parties are beginning to understand the unfairness of the current rules on individuals.

Whilst encouraging to see the party commit to a review, we’ve been here before. A review on its own will not achieve anything meaningful. We need the next government to be prepared to take bold action on IR35 following any sort of review – and that includes scrapping the rules altogether.

Action on late payment

When it comes the scourge of late payments, the Lib Dems have pledged to make the Prompt Payment Code mandatory for companies of more than 250 employees. This is an idea that IPSE has championed in our role as a member of the Prompt Payment Compliance Board that has the power to boot out companies not fulfilling their obligations under the code.

Signatories have to pay 95% of their invoices to small businesses within 30 days or face being kicked off the code. Making this mandatory would be a welcome step in ensuring that the UK’s smallest businesses are paid on time. However, it’s not entirely clear how enforcement of a mandatory code would work in practice. The threat of being kicked off the code and the reputational damage involved currently acts as the way of ensuring payments are made on time.

If the code were to become mandatory, we would likely have to see penalties introduced for failing to comply and significantly more resources available for the Small Business Commissioner to act on this failing to abide by the code.

Parental pay and rights to be extended to the self-employed

The Lib Dems have also pledged to end the anomalies that exist between the self-employed and the employed when it comes to parental pay and rights. This includes extending the initial six-week payment that self-employed mothers currently miss out on. It also means extending statutory parental pay and leave, as well as statutory adoption pay and leave to the self-employed.

This is welcome news for the sector as for too long, lower maternity pay and an absence of rights for fathers and those seeking to adopt have hindered those that choose to work in this way.

On the face of it, there seems little justification for such a blatant discrepancy and it is right that the parties are now recognising IPSE’s campaigning in this area. 

Smaller parties less constrained become a hotbed of ideas

Historically, the smaller parties in our two-party political system enjoy a great deal of freedom when it comes to their ideas for government. The chances are they’ll never get the chance to implement these plans. However, a significant bloc of MPs in Westminster can help influence change and raise awareness of key issues. 

Similarly, we do know that both Labour and the Conservatives have previously used the Lib Dems’ manifesto as a sounding board for ideas they’re considering but also for inspiration when it comes to policies that are well-received in polling.

Let’s hope this manifesto can therefore act as the starting gun on supportive policies for the sector.

We need your help

At IPSE, we’ve been contacting all prospective parliamentary candidates with our manifesto and urging the parties to understand and embrace this sector during this election campaign.

So far, candidates have been receptive to our key asks. But we also need your support in getting this into the hands of our future MPs and getting self-employment up the political agenda on the campaign trail.

The more members we have contacting candidates with these key asks for the whole sector, the more likely we are to see the issues affecting them championed in this election campaign.

Our manifesto for the self-employed 

There are 4.3 million self-employed people in the UK. Their voice must be fairly heard at the 2024 general election. 

IPSE's manifesto for the self-employed calls on political parties to make the self-employed a policymaking priority, unlocking the full potential of this dynamic part of our economy.

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Meet the author

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Joshua Toovey

Senior Research and Policy Officer