The Conservative Party Conference held in Manchester earlier this month included a fringe event examining the current myths and realities surrounding self-employment.

While the growth in self-employment is widely associated with having a positive impact on the UK economy, it was further acknowledged that there is an urgent need for policymakers to develop a better understanding of what self-employment means in order to adequately face the new realities presented by the modern labour market.

The CRSE was invited to join the panel discussion along with Ben Bell, representing Uber, Damien Hinds, Minister of State for Employment and Simon McVicker, IPSE’s Director of Policy.

Ben Bell from Uber, outlined the flexibility and economic opportunities presented by the gig economy, as well as the need for an informed policy response in areas such as saving for later life, sickness pay and lifelong learning.

In line with this argument, Damien Hinds, Minister of State for Employment, emphasised the need for distinguishing between gig economy workers who are forced into self-employment due to the lack of other opportunities and those who pursue self-employment as an active choice. He further stated that this approach is essential for adequately supporting the more vulnerable former category.

Similarly, Simon McVicker, IPSE’s Director of Policy, underlined the fact that while publicity and media largely focus on the gig economy, self-employment growth is actually driven by an increase in the numbers of highly skilled independent professionals.
Andrew Burke, Dean of Trinity Business School and Chair of the CRSE, added weight to the discussion – presenting data from the upcoming report on the segmentation of the self-employed workforce in the UK.

Burke pointed to concerns regarding the media depiction of the self-employed as a homogenous group, identifying this as one of the main factors that motivated the CRSE to commission the report. The report, due to be published mid-Autumn, disproves the myth that the self-employed are a homogenous group. Instead, it highlights that the self-employed workforce is made up of distinct segments that can be distinguished by their economic wellbeing, security and independence.

Furthermore, Burke pointed out that one of the key functions of the report is to enable policymakers to identify a targeted approach reflecting the specific needs of the different segments.

Taking into consideration the evolving nature of self-employment, this years’ Conservative Party conference aimed to gain a better understanding of how to develop a sustainable employment landscape, while also addressing the needs of the UK economy after Brexit.

In light with these developments, the upcoming results of the CRSE’s segmentation research can provide the so-needed insight into the different segments of the self-employed workforce. Thus, it will illustrate that policymakers should aim to improve the situation for self-employed workers who need support and protection, without negatively impacting the rest of the UK’s growing solo self-employed community who are activity contributing to the economy.