In defence of the self-employed

Iona Bain

Tell me, Philip Hammond; how do you encourage enterprise, resourcefulness and self-reliance in our new Brexit economy?

Do you encourage workers who take time to skill up, harness new technologies, disrupt established practices and take risks to move our economy forward? Or do you hit a significant proportion of them with the blunt instrument of a tax hike?

As a personal finance commentator (and freelancer), I feel Hammond’s stance makes no real fiscal sense. The self-employed are the fastest growing section of our workforce. They constituted 3.8m workers in 2008, but have risen to 4.6m today. They make up 15 per cent of the workforce and 45 per cent of all employment growth since the financial crisis.

For a government obsessed with inefficiencies and those that supposedly take out less than they put in, effective freelancers are surely model citizens. By working remotely, they can move to cheaper parts of the country, generating much-needed local economic activity and putting less strain on our housing hotspots.But no. Tradespeople, taxi drivers, entrepreneurs – the huge contribution they make and the tough, precarious lives they often lead has just been reduced to how much less they pay in national insurance contributions compared to employees.

Hammond has portrayed the decision to hike CLass 4 national insurance contributions for the self-employed as closing off a tax loophole. And undoubtedly, the well-off self-employed will face the highest bills. A management consultant earning £51,200 can expect to be £620 worse off each year.

But let’s be clear – most self-employed workers do not fit into this category. As Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North, points out, anyone earning £20,000 would see their NI bill go up by £240 a year (and this is likely to affect a huge number of his constituents, who are black cab drivers).

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