Future of Work Review has potential, if it doesn’t kick the can down the road

Busy freelancers may not have noticed but earlier this month, the government announced that Matt Warman MP would be leading a review into the Future of Work, and it’s a review that is bound to have something to say about freelancing, writes Andy Chamberlain, director of policy at The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE).

The announcement stated that the review would cover a number of far-reaching topics such as how the country can navigate the aftershocks of the coronavirus pandemic, and how it can equip itself to deal with Net Zero, 'levelling up' and Brexit.

Importantly, for self-employed workers, it also said that it would be covering the labour market and whether it is fit for the future.

The nine-to-five is so yesteryear

We at IPSE welcome the new review. Technological changes such as automation and the rise in virtual working, as well as a shift in attitudes to work which has been compounded by the pandemic, has left traditional 9-to-5 employment feeling decidedly old-fashioned. It is, therefore, essential that policymakers understand these changes, so that they can design public policy around how people increasingly want to shape their working lives.

The Future of Work review should also tackle long-term issues that have plagued freelancers for years. For example, IR35 reforms in the public and private sectors have caused major disruption for freelancers and hirers alike, as pointed out this week by the Public Accounts Committee. Clients have been unsure how to interpret notoriously difficult employment status rules and thousands of self-employed workers have had to fight against wrongly made IR35 decisions. A recommendation here from Mr Harman would go a long way to help clear up this problem and remove a crucial barrier stopping freelancers from thriving. But we are not holding our breath.

Difficulties with Warman's review

Self-employed workers shouldn’t be too excited about the government’s announcement to probe the future of work. Setting up a review, won’t necessarily mean that politicians and government departments will listen to recommendations and make changes to the law.

The review won’t be a silver bullet that finds answers to every single problem that freelancers currently face. And it seems like the really thorny issues like taxation, might not be tackled at all.

The Matthew Taylor Review of 2017 made a number of helpful recommendations, but only the more straightforward ones were implemented. The more important, but more complicated issues, such as clarifying the employment status rules haven’t been touched. Sorting out employment status would make a real difference to the future of work, which is why IPSE will put considerable focus on this issue in our submission to the review.

Non-solvable-overnight issues? Of course, but action too please

In an attempt to get on the front foot, we have already met with Mr Warman and are looking forward to contributing further to his review. But we will not be pinning all of our hopes on its outcome. Long-term issues such as the implementation of IR35 -- and the lack of clarity around employment status as a whole -- won’t be solved overnight.

That said, pressure needs to be put on the government to ensure that recommendations from the upcoming review are enacted. Otherwise, the recommendations will follow the same fate as Mr Taylor’s review (and a whole host of other reviews), serving to just kick the can down the road.

If the Future of Work review succeeds and policymakers are able to understand and successfully tackle issues like IR35 and employment status, then the dynamism and flexibility which is inherent in freelancing will once again drive economic growth, not just for the individuals who choose this way of working, but for the country as a whole.

 

31st May 2022

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