Boris Johnson criticised for overlooking self-employed as ‘in-work’

Boris Johnson has been accused of undervaluing the self-employed, as he failed to include them in a now-rubbished claim that more people are working since before covid hit.

Made by the prime minister on five separate occasions between November 2021 and January 2022, the claim was that “more people [are] in work now, than before the pandemic began.”

But fact-checkers at Full Fact, and the ONS, have now told No 10 that while the number of payroll staff has increased since January-March 2020, the total number in work has not.

'Excludes the self-employed'

And awkwardly for a PM who once freelanced as a journalist, and wants one-person ventures to aid the recovery, that total number “excludes” the self-employed, the ONS’s Ed Humpherson has said.

A Twitter user reflected: “The most important take-away here is that it implies the PM values payroll work over self-employed work.

“Not a good look [for Mr Johnson], considering nearly all entrepreneurs are self-employed and most new businesses begin from off-payroll.”

'False claim'

According to the ONS, 33million people were in work in the first quarter of 2020 (when coronavirus struck), versus 32.5m between September and November 2021.

“Mr Johnson’s [seemingly] weekly claim of 420,000 more at work is false,” said Geraint Davies MP, reflecting on chancellor Rishi Sunak acknowledging the “right use” of the stats.

“There are [in fact] 506,000 fewer people at work, including the self-employed, than before the pandemic.”

'Public deserves stats they can believe'

Will Moy, chief executive of Full Fact, has welcomed the correction of the official record, even though both ministers and MPs picked up Mr Johnson’s claim and repeated it.

“The public deserves statistics they can believe, “ Mr Moy says.

“Correcting mistakes is not an admission of failure, but a way for our elected representatives to lead by example.”

'For some freelancers, SEISS was no help at all'

As to why the self-employed have fallen as a population, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed says, as well as covid, policymakers have a lot to answer for.

The association told FreelanceUK: “The pandemic had a devastating impact on self-employed workers. Thousands lost savings and many turned away from contract work altogether.

“The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme was a lifeline for millions and, to those that received it, it was generous, but for around 1.5million others, it was no help at all.

“If we could turn back the clock, we’d want SEISS to be more targeted so that the support went to those who needed it most, not just those that met the arbitrary eligibility criteria.

“Had the scheme been better targeted from the start, it’s likely the self-employment sector would be in a much stronger and healthier position.”

'Work instantaneously dried up for creative freelancers'

Reflecting on its own figures, which show solo self-employment has fallen by five per cent from 4.3million in 2020 to 4.1million in 2021, IPSE’s Andy Chamberlain acknowledged creatives as the hardest hit.

“The lockdowns caused work opportunities to instantaneously dry up,” began Mr Chamberlain, who said the fall represents the second consecutive year solo self-employment has decreased.

The IPSE policy director continued in a statement to FreelanceUK: “Many of those working in TV, film and theatre are self-employed – most of them had no opportunity to work during in large parts of 2020 and 2021.

“Some of them were supported by SEISS, others were not simply because they didn’t meet the eligibility criteria. The scale and longevity of the economic shock in this sector has had a permanent impact and many left self-employment altogether.”

Labour’s Mr Davies reflected: “Nine-hundred-thousand [people] have abandoned self-employment, as [the] chancellor has withheld support in the pandemic and inflicted IR35 [reform further to] national insurance [increases on the horizon]…stifling [the] UK’s entrepreneurial growth.”


8th February 2022

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