There is increasing awareness in public policy circles that the UK is seeing a boom in self-employment. The Prime Minister is clearly committed to the cause of this 4.5 million strong community. His announcement that Julie Deane, Founder of the Cambridge Satchel Company, will lead a review of self-employment for the Government is hugely welcome. We should support the revitalised enterprise culture and encourage and enable entrepreneurs to become employers and exporters, where appropriate, too.
Rightly, the review will look at why people choose to become self-employed and explore the personal issues that face them as individuals, not just as business owners. It will recommend how a more flexible and supportive environment can be created – one that provides more security and peace of mind. It will build on, and enhance, a number of initiatives already taken by the Government to support and foster self-employment, from the New Enterprise Allowance, to deregulation initiatives, to the forthcoming consultation on the future of Class 4 National Insurance Contributions and abolition of Class 2 National Insurance Contributions.
The RSA has already added much to the debate, for example by revealing through careful research that the current “self-employment revolution” is fuelled by the benefits of being self-employed: the flexibility, the pursuit of your own dreams, the dignity and freedom; that people actually tend more often to be pulled into self-employment by the balance it can bring, rather than pushed into it by lack of opportunities elsewhere.
But, as the RSA has also argued, this does not mean that life for the self-employed could not be better still. Addressing the challenges will not only benefit the self-employed – it will also benefit wider society. Many of the millions of people now in self-employment are first-time entrepreneurs. Potentially they are first-time employers and first-time exporters too. They must be as important to us as first-time homeowners and first-time shareholders continue to be in the drive for a more socially mobile Britain. I hope, then, that this review will drive forward thinking about how the twenty-first century increase in self-employment promises returns for all of us – for example as employees or the customers of new entrants.
Encouraging the self-employed, by reducing barriers to entry, can bring increased competition to markets, drive innovation, enable ambition, help instil a can-do attitude for a can-do Britain, and – crucially – provide opportunities for jobs and growth – just as Julie Deane has turned an idea into the product of a self-employed entrepreneur, into the business of an employer providing 130 jobs.
A high rate of self-employment is here to stay. But it is not all about the self. The Government review can ensure it benefits all of us.
David Rutley is MP for Macclesfield.