Ministers urged to boost female freelancer training options

The government should support self-employed mothers and other freelancers who are female by broadening the Apprenticeship Levy into a skills and training levy, a new report urges.

Writing in ‘How to recruit women for the 21st century,’ a cross-party group of MPs says that by widening the existing levy, development opportunities for women working via both their own businesses and recruitment agencies could improve.

Such a training boost would help close the gender pay gap, said the Women and Work All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), as evidence indicates that the gap closes as the skill-level increases.

Submitted to the group by freelance body IPSE, the evidence follows a study showing the creative industry to have a bigger gender pay-gap than Financial Services and Engineering.

IPSE therefore welcomes the APPG recommending that training opportunities for female freelancers should be improved, especially as the MPs also heard that self-employed men earn, on average, 16% more than self-employed women when doing the same job.

“It is simply unacceptable that in 2019, the average female freelancer still earns 16 per cent less than their male counterpart,” said Chloé Jepps, deputy head of research at the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE).

“It is time for government and industry to step up and address the challenges faced by female freelancers. They should start by opening up more accessible training and development opportunities for female freelancers – and, indeed, all the UK’s self-employed.”

The association has sounded the appeal before – but has voiced frustration that training to get new skills as a sole trader is still is not tax deductible, despite government pledges on self-employed people’s training at Autumn Budget 2018.

However, simply accessing training (whether it be to acquire new skills or not) “can be difficult for the self-employed”, acknowledged the APPG.

”[The self-employed] often struggle to take an unpaid day off work, pay for training themselves, or find flexible learning platforms,” the MP-led group added.

“These barriers prevent women from upgrading their skills and therefore being able to increase their rate [of pay] in response.

As well as reforming the Apprenticeship Levy so freelancers can benefit (currently, freelancers using staffing agencies suffer deductions due to the AL), the APPG recommends that government consider a diversity fund so SMEs could offer coaching and mentoring to support women.

Elsewhere in their 24-page report, the APPG provides a ‘toolkit’ designed to help employers “shift the persistent obstacles that women face when entering, progressing in, and returning to the workplace”.

IPSE reflected: “Women – and particularly mothers – are one of the fastest-growing groups in the self-employed sector.

“In fact, IPSE’s own research shows that the number of freelance mothers has doubled since 2008. But, as this report shows, like in so many other areas of the workforce there are still far too many obstacles holding them back.


29th January 2019

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