Rapid changes in the way we work are taking place. From increased remote working to self-employment ‘side hustles’ and new digital technologies, the future is likely to be heavily freelance. But many self-employed people are still held back by a business environment that feels out of date.
While the UK, particularly in major cities such as London, is a good place to start a business there are many practical difficulties that mean the option of becoming – and remaining - a freelancer are not available to everyone. Our poor record on broadband connectivity and fragmented transport network particularly hamper those who are setting out on their own.
We have outlined a range of simple steps the government can take to alleviate these difficulties and create a business environment that will help the self-employed to thrive.
Self-employment needs the right physical and digital infrastructure so that people can work and travel in an agile way. Priorities should include, firstly, improved broadband and mobile coverage across the UK. 78 per cent of the UK’s self-employed said reliable broadband is the most important tool to enable remote working. Good connectivity is essential to being able to work from home or while traveling, communicating with clients, finding new work opportunities and marketing your business. As freelancers work at home and on the move, Wi-Fi and mobile networks are both crucial – moving quickly on both fronts would particularly benefit entrepreneurs in rural areas, who are often overlooked.
- Deliver super-fast broadband service for all by 2025 and maintain commitment to ensure the majority of the population will be covered by a 5G signal by 2027.
A common concern of freelancers, particularly in the creative industries, is that the time, effort and ideas they put into seeking new business are unprotected and at risk of being copied or reproduced without credit by others. Government should look at how this area of law affects the self-employed and start-ups. It should consider how freelancers’ access to advice and support on IP law can be improved, as well as how clients could be sanctioned for unauthorised use of content and services. This will be particularly important should the UK leave the EU and decide to review legislation, such as the EU’s Directives on copyright, that cover this area.
- Enhance protection for freelancers’ business in the digital era by reviewing intellectual property law and how it affects the self-employed.
- Improve signposting, via Gov.UK, of information about copyright and IP law for both freelancers and clients.
Workhubs or co-working spaces are the incubators of small businesses, innovation and collaboration. Economic impact assessments suggest they increase the productivity of those using them and have a positive multiplier effect on local businesses – more workubs could play a vital role in reviving Britain’s struggling high streets. However, only 13 per cent of freelancers regularly use workhubs and at present their growth remains restricted by planning policy. To enable more co-working spaces, government could exempt workhubs with fewer than five premises from business rates, incentivise the use of empty properties for this purpose and streamline the planning system.
- Incentivise the use of modern co-working spaces – ‘workhubs’ – through targeted support such as business rates exemptions.
- The Government should work with councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships to promote the creation of workhubs.
Mutual assistance groups, co-operatives or collectives, new digital platforms or membership groups allow people to come together, share information and pool benefits and resources. In response to 2017’s Taylor Review into Modern Working Practices, Government committed to the creation of a “WorkerTech Catalyst” to encourage greater collective voice amongst the self-employed. However, there has been little in the way of concrete action. While many freelancers value their way of work for the independence it brings, there may be merit in trialling new models of self-employed co-operatives address issues such as collective action to chase up chronic late payers to pooling savings products, or even acting as a consortium to bid for government contracts.
- Incentivise ways for the self-employed to come together through mutual assistance groups or co-operatives to pool risk and resources.
- Encourage financial institutions, such as banks and insurance providers, to adopt more flexible arrangements for groups of self-employed workers.
- Government should work with IPSE and other stakeholders to develop a ‘workertech’ pilot.