Queen’s Speech brings crumbs of comfort for freelancers, but ducks employment status test
While the Queen’s Speech was broadly positive for the self-employed, the government still faces hurdles in getting the agenda passed through the House of Commons, writes IPSE.
The Queen’s Speech unveiled on Monday (14 October) set out some good news for freelancers. However, the government’s domestic agenda has important omissions when it comes to self-employment and continues to be overshadowed by the Brexit debacle.
First, the positives. IPSE has been calling for better broadband access for years. 78 per cent of the UK’s self-employed say reliable broadband is the most important tool to enable remote working. Good internet connectivity is vital for freelancers to communicate with clients, find new work opportunities and market their businesses.
We strongly welcome the government’s commitment to new legislation to help roll out gigabit-capable broadband across the UK and ensure flats and homes are broadband-enabled. Fast, reliable and secure broadband networks will particularly benefit those working for themselves in rural areas.
Another important step set out in the Queen's Speech concerns pensions. IPSE research has shown there is a looming self-employed savings crisis. 67 per cent of self-employed people are worried about their pension but just under one-third are actively saving into one, highlighting the unavoidable need to act now before it is too late.
The Pensions Bill announced today to “help people plan for the future” and save for later life will also support the self-employed. The long-awaited creation of a pensions dashboard will enable freelancers to bring their savings together in one place and get a handle on their finances for later life. The government’s embrace of Collective Defined Contribution (CDC) pensions could also be another piece of the self-employed savings puzzle.
Away from the headline announcements, it was pleasing to see the government acknowledge that “our flexible labour market is working” given the UK’s current record levels of unemployment. It is also encouraging that the government has affirmed it will “continue to deliver on the commitments set out in the Good Work Plan”.
However, this recognition has not been matched by action in this Queen’s Speech. Despite the government’s consultation on employment status closing over a year ago, there is still no indication of when a ‘Good Work Bill’ to update our employment law for the 21st Century will be forthcoming.
The government cannot continue to duck this crucial issue, which is far from academic. Recent weeks have seen numerous reports of private sector clients taking a hard-line approach to contractors in order to avoid falling foul of HMRC’s new off-payroll working rules, due to come into effect from April 2020. Both freelancers and their engagers urgently need clarity on employment status. IPSE believe that only a statutory legal definition of self-employment can bring the clarity needed to resolve this issue.
Overall, while the Queen’s speech was broadly positive for the self-employed, the government still faces a parliamentary hurdle in getting its agenda – including a possible Brexit deal – passed through the House of Commons. If it can, then all eyes will be on the Chancellor’s Budget on 6 November. He must use this opportunity to set out a dynamic, pro-business vision that genuinely backs the UK’s smallest businesses and the self-employed. If it cannot, freelancers will be bracing for more uncertainty over the coming weeks.