Ross Clark

Self-employed workers don’t need rescuing

Self-employed workers don't need rescuing
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'Workers,' says Matthew Taylor, whose report into modern practices is published this week, 'should be treated as human beings, not cogs in a machine'. How very grand – and how fatuous. His entire report, commissioned by Theresa May in one of her first acts after becoming Prime Minister last July, is pointless, based on the false premise that there are millions of Brits beavering away in Victorian conditions for little money in insecure self-employment. Actually, we’re quite happy, Matthew. The vast majority of us are self-employed because we like it that way. We are not looking for a job, nor extra hours.

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), this supposed great mass of unhappy freelancers is virtually non-existent – a figment of the imagination of leftish people like Matthew Taylor, a former policy wonk for Tony Blair. People who are working part-time in self-employment because they wanted a full-time job but couldn’t find one make up well under 0.1 per cent of the working population. I’m one of the statistics myself: I’ve just had a woman from the ONS ring me up and ask how happy I felt yesterday, on a scale of 1 to 10. I told her to put down ‘9’, but it would go up to 10 if I didn’t sense I had the government on my back.

You see, I don’t think the Taylor Report, or any of the other fuss into modern working practices, is really about our happiness at all. I have a sense that the Treasury, taking a lead from Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn, has invented this great supposed underclass of the self-employed as an excuse to try to drive more people back into employment and so, it thinks, increase tax revenues. Remember Philip Hammond’s budget speech when he, too, spoke of a Britain of poor wretches being forced reluctantly into self-employment by callous businesses? He then proceeded to announce a tax rise which could not be better designed to punish the wretches further without harming the callous employers – by increasing the National Insurance Contributions of the self-employed (while simultaneously cutting corporation tax). The rise in NICs, happily, was soon dropped.

Maybe Treasury officials stuck in their Whitehall offices on sunny day are envious of those of us who are in control of our working patterns, who can say, any day we feel like it, ‘sod this, I’m having a day off’. Who can take our – albeit unpaid – holidays whenever we feel like it. Who can gradually wind down towards retirement rather than fall off a cliff edge into it (the largest proportion of self-employed workers is to be found among the over 65s).       They certainly have something against us. Besides the proposed tax increases, the Treasury wants us to fill in tax returns four times a year.

And no, we’re not all tax-dodgers. In some ways we’re the opposite. Because we have to fill in tax returns, income gets declared which wouldn’t get declared if we were on PAYE. Capital gains, income from isolated work activities: I bet there’s an awful lot of that which employees fail to declare –partly because they are not really sure how to do it.

It is bad enough that government is waging war on the self-employed at all – but for it to be claiming to do it in our interest truly stinks.