The Small Business Taskforce: making self-employment work for all

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What is self-employment and how can we ensure it remains a positive way of working? These are two of the big questions that the Small Business Taskforce wants resolved as part of its Ten Point Plan to support the UK’s 5.7 million small businesses.

In light of the number of recent court cases to do with employment status and whether individuals are genuinely self-employed or not, there is a growing sense that we need a clearer handle on what genuine self-employment looks like. This was one of the key tasks of the Taylor Review, which reported back in summer 2017.

In IPSE’s response, we called for a legal definition of self-employment to try to tackle this uncertainty. We believe introducing a legal definition will make it more difficult for unscrupulous employers to push people into self-employment against their will. This is because if people have a better idea of what characteristics suggest self-employment, employers will find it more difficult to misclassify individuals as self-employed.

We still believe this is an approach government should seriously consider. We developed four criteria that indicate that someone is self-employed:

  1. Having autonomy in their work - the ability to send substitutes and for there to be no requirement to do anything outside the agreed work.
  2. Having control over working arrangements - deciding how to complete their tasks, as well as their hours and location.
  3. Taking on business risk - taking responsibility for finance and tax responsibilities and being paid on a per task basis.
  4. Level of independence from clients - not being “part and parcel” of an organisation (for example, having to wear a uniform) and using your own tools and equipment to complete your work.

This considered approach will give the best insight into what is and isn’t self-employment. Taylor did not explicitly back our call for a statutory definition when he launched his report in July 2017, but he did make it clear that there needed to be greater clarity on employment status – particularly the boundary between ‘worker’ and self-employed status.

The government eventually responded to the review in February this year. They accepted nearly all of Taylor’s recommendations, but decided to consult further on a number of areas including employment status. This far-reaching consultation touches on many important areas for the self-employed, including whether the existing employment status case law around should be codified, and also whether tax and employment status should be more closely aligned.

IPSE will be closely involved in this process, making sure that self-employment remains a positive way of working. And we must emphasise that it is a positive way of working. A recent survey by the Department for Business and Institute for Employment Studies found that the majority of people in the much-maligned gig economy are either very or fairly satisfied with their way of working, with independence and flexibility the top reasons. Let’s make sure we keep it that way. Both by tackling exploitation and protecting the freedom of the legitimately self-employed with a statutory definition.

Meet the author

Jordan Marshall

Policy Development Manager

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