After weeks of campaigning, Conservative Party members are set to pick either former chancellor Rishi Sunak or the foreign secretary Liz Truss as prime minister.
While the race’s outcome is still up in the air, the bookies and polls overwhelmingly believe Truss will overcome Sunak when voting closes in early September.
We already have a sense of what a Truss-led government would prioritise. The foreign secretary has repeatedly talked about the need to cut taxes and is likely to follow through on her rhetoric as prime minister. She has also spoken about the need to stand up to Russia post Ukraine and is widely predicted to continue sanctions against the country in Number 10.
What isn’t certain, however, is what Truss will do for one of the most innovative and dynamic parts of the UK economy: the self-employed. Despite numerous speeches, media interviews and debates, Truss hasn’t yet outlined her plans for the sector. Instead, she has talked briefly – though encouragingly – about tackling treasury orthodoxy and helping freelancers during this week’s Conservative Party hustings in Wales.
While I and many others have welcomed her support for the self-employed during the hustings, we shouldn’t get our hopes up just yet. Freelancing has been shaken to its core over the past two years, and we need less talk, and more action. In other words, if Truss is going to get the support of thousands of self-employed workers, then she needs to show that she will follow through on her campaign promises.
>See also: Number of self-employed falls one fifth since Covid-19
At IPSE, we believe Truss needs to unveil a plan that can revitalise a sector that contributes £303bn to the UK economy and provides businesses across the country with innovation, entrepreneurism and dynamism – skills that are paramount to the success of any company. She also needs to ensure that any promise she makes shows how she can increase the numbers of self-employed workers, after two years of pandemic uncertainty which ruined 11 years of continuous growth in the sector.
While it may seem unlikely that Truss will provide such a plan in the remaining weeks of the Tory leadership campaign, it isn’t too late for her to spell out that she would bring life back to the self-employed.
What Liz Truss needs to do
If Truss does decide to unveil a plan before September, then she needs to tackle the most important issue impacting freelancers: IR35. The flawed reform has shifted the responsibility for determining notoriously difficult employment status decisions from self-employed workers to their clients.
>See also: Labour pledges to scrap IR35 rollout to business … and then backtracks
The changes have devastated self-employed workers and created mass uncertainty and confusion for hirers and contractors alike. In fact, IR35 is so destructive that IPSE research has found that more than a third of freelancers (35 per cent) have closed their businesses since the changes. Moreover, the reforms are so difficult to understand that one in two businesses (47 per cent) have reported that IR35 has been a significant administrative burden since its implementation in the private sector in April 2021.
If Truss wants to solve this issue – and get freelancers to support her bid to become prime minister – then she needs to announce a government review into the flawed reform. She also needs to demonstrate that she is prepared to grasp the nettle on tricky issues like clarifying employment status rules – something which the government had been committed to doing for four years, until it decided to not to two weeks ago.
Next month, it is likely that Liz Truss will enter Downing Street as prime minister. While she’ll have the support of Conservative Party members, Truss won’t necessarily have the public’s support. If she wants to get one of the innovative parts of the UK economy on her side, then she needs to show that she is willing to tackle IR35 and a number of other issues affecting thousands of self-employed workers.
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