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When you hear the words ‘self-employed’ one of the first things that comes to mind is probably ‘going it alone’. You would most definitely be right in thinking this, however, recently a collaboration revolution has started to occur within the ranks of the UK’s growing army of self-employed.

A new report, ‘The Self Organising Self-Employed’, published by the RSA and commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), explores this new collaborative phenomenon and how the self-employed are banding together to fill the financial gaps left by Government.

Collaborative arrangements, such as Bread Funds, are allowing the self-employed to pool their resources in communal funds which can then be accessed to provide sick pay or cover late payments. This is helping reduce the risk for many self-employed and giving them the peace of mind that employees already have when faced with hardship in their life.

It is heartening to hear of, and see, collaborative and enterprising initiatives like these cropping up in the UK. However, it does raise the question of why it has been necessary for the self-employed to come together in this way as well as what more Government should do to support these initiatives

There is no doubt that the value of the self-employed has not been fully recognised by previous Governments with many still feeling like they are shut out of the social security system and financial services. This includes critical support such as sick and injury pay which many employees take for granted.

In a survey conducted last year, 17% of self-employed said ‘not getting paid if I fall ill or have to take time out of work for personal/family reasons’ is the number one challenge they face, 44% of respondents ranked this in the top 3 challenges they face.

Government has been too slow in recognising the self-employment boom –we now have 4.8 million self-employed in the UK representing about 40% of UK jobs growth, and gaps in support have started to emerge. And all the indications are this trend is set to continue

With a new Government in place, it is time to get serious about supporting the self-employed and giving them the best chance to grow and become the engines of the UK economy.

Government needs to do more to promote and nurture these innovative self-organising arrangements such as breaking down the regulatory barriers to these arrangements.  In addition to the repatriation of EU legislation as part of the Great Repeal Bill, after the UK has left the EU, the Government should look again at the regulatory framework to see what more could be done to support self-organising.

Equally important is Government looking at scope for partnering with grassroots initiatives, for example, by looking at opening up the salary guarantee fund for universal credit claimants. Central and Local Government should also experiment with match funding to back self- organising schemes or potentially invest directly in them.

And more broadly there needs to be greater recognition of the value the self-employed offer the economy and local communities. Any intervention to curb the small number of the falsely self-employed must be targeted to ensure that the nature of self-employment is not changed for the millions of genuinely self-employed.

Additionally, the Government should step in and provide equal maternity, paternity and adoption pay alongside addressing access to financial products such as mortgages.

The launch of the new Parliament provides the perfect opportunity to think afresh about how the needs of the growing self-employed workforce might be met. One thing is certain though – collaboration amongst the self-employed is no longer a dirty word.

Download 'The Self-organising self-employed' report (PDF, 2MB)


Report author, Benedict Dellot blogs: 

Why it's time the self-employed joined forces to overcome adversity

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