IPSE: Data shows “clear and welcome signs” easing of lockdown so far is stabilising self-employed numbers

IPSE has welcomed ONS data showing the easing of lockdown restrictions earlier this year helped to stabilise self-employed numbers.

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The data revealed that although there are still 500,000 fewer freelancers than the same time last year, the total number of freelancers in March had risen by 21,000 compared to the previous month. This is the second consecutive month-on-month increase in self-employed numbers since the beginning of the pandemic.

It also emerged that there were 197,000 more people on-payroll compared to the previous month. IPSE warned that contrary to other commentary, this may in fact be in large part due to the changes to IR35 self-employed taxation, which pushed many more self-employed people into employment or, more commonly, unregulated umbrella companies.

Andy Chamberlain, Director of Policy at IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed), said: “The data this morning shows clear and welcome signs the self-employed sector is finally moving in the right direction. Although overall numbers are still down by over 500,000 compared to the same time last year, we have now seen the second month-on-month increase in the number of self-employed since the beginning of the pandemic.

“The halt to the roadmap announced yesterday, however, may be a blow to this progress, and we continue to urge the government to introduce a sectoral support and stimulus package to protect affected sectors such as events and the creative industry – and also give them the boost they need to get back on their feet once the economy fully re-opens.

“Looking at employment numbers, there is also, however, some cause for concern. It has been widely celebrated that there has been a 197,000 increase in the number of people on-payroll in the UK. A large part of this number may actually be contractors who, because of the changes to IR35 self-employed taxation in April, have been forced into working through unregulated umbrella companies. This may not, in other words, be more people in good work, but more people forced out of contracting into an employment law wild west.”

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IPSE is the leading association for contractors, consultants, interims, freelancers and the self-employed. We strive to bring our members the most comprehensive and useful range of information and services and all the latest news about what affects your business.