Opinion: Grant Speed
Why Britain needs its independent workers
It was a memorable, if not humiliating, Budget for the Chancellor, Philip Hammond. The U-turn on plans to increase national insurance contributions will be welcomed by many, but the challenge on those that work alone remains and risks hurting a vital element of Britain’s workforce.
Of course, we can all agree that the Government is right to make sure that people are paying the right amount of tax. Yet, the current approach and treatment of self-employed workers and contractors needs to be thought through.
Some quick wins today might achieve a short term boost in tax receipts, but changes, such as the new IR35 rules for off-payroll workers in the public sector, risk creating significant problems further down the line in the flexibility and role diversity of the labour pool.
We should not forget the financial risk that many people take in becoming an independent worker. Without the benefits of their permanent colleagues, such as pension contributions, sick leave and holiday pay, it takes great entrepreneurial courage to take full responsibility for winning work and building that business from scratch.
The current marginalisation of independent workers threatens to chip away at the benefits of choosing an alternative career path, which provides businesses and the public sector with expert consultants, flexible resource and access to a deep and diverse pool of experience.
But now, management teams face significant change ahead. Beyond the daily threat of austerity and economic volatility, the likes of digital labour, the proliferation of data and rampant digital transformation are rapidly changing the way we all work and live and present even greater long-term hurdles to overcome. These are all challenges that will require fresh ideas, battle-tested knowledge and lessons learnt from other sectors and businesses to successfully navigate.
As such, we need to nurture independent workers – from interims and self-employed to contractors – and deeply consider the role they play in our society. Only when we truly understand the potential of our workforce, can we build an economy that has the resource to meet whatever its faces.