Before moving to Wales and working with community land trusts, NEF associate Pat Conaty was the Development Director of the Birmingham Settlement, an inner city community regeneration organisation. He led the setting up of inner city social enterprises: credit unions, Business Debtline, the Aston Reinvestment Trust (ART) and was co-founder of Localise West Midlands.
With Alex Bird and Philip Ross, he has now produced the Not Alone report published by Co-operatives UK, the Wales Co-operative Centre and the trade union’s Unity Trust Bank.
GEO in the USA put this blog out on Labour List and Shareable Weekly – and there has been strong interest in the report from MPs John McDonnell, Tom Watson and Stephen Kinnock.
The self-employed precariat do not enjoy employment rights and protections at work, or any of the implicit services associated with being an employee, such as payroll or workplace insurance – let alone pension or sick pay. In addition, their potential income is indirectly eroded by other costs such as agency fees. They face additional challenges related to being paid on time and the right to a contract. To compound all this, many of the self-employed are among the lowest-paid workers in the country.
The executive summary records that there are now more self-employed workers than at any time since modern records began. Some 4.6 million people, around 15% of the workforce, are now selfemployed and data from the Office for National Statistics show that two thirds of new jobs in the UK created in recent years are down to self-employment.
Current projections are that by 2018 the number of people who are self-employed will outnumber those working in the public sector. This report focuses on the needs of people in self-employment who face low income and social and economic insecurity – the ‘self-employed precariat’.
Around four out of five people in self-employment (83%) are sole traders with no employees. The selfemployed precariat is reflective of complex and diverse patterns of atypical work that is growing, ranging from casual working to temps, agency staff, own account workers and Uber drivers.
There are examples of freelancers coming together to form co-operatives for shared services, in some cases with support from entrepreneurial trade unions who see the opportunity to support members who are self-employed, not just those who are employed:
- In Swindon, 50 music teachers have come together to form a coop to market their services to schools, with support from the Musicians Union
- In London, interpreters came together in November 2012 in a co-op RICOL after changes in their terms and conditions when the firm Capita took on the contract to provide interpretation services in judicial courts.
- In Wales, the Oren Actors Management Co-op allows actors between roles to work as agents for other co-op member actors, marketing their services.
The best shared service co-operatives offer back-office support, debt management, contract advice, access to finance, sickness insurance, the shared use of equipment and access to workspace. Some key services, such as mutual guarantee societies, which help freelancers to leverage low-cost loan funds from banks, have a proven track record in 20 EU countries, but face unintended regulatory barriers in the UK.
The report calls for the cousins of the labour movement – co-operatives, trade unions and mutual organisations – to come together and form cohesive institutions to unite the self-employed precariat in ‘solidarity economy’ partnerships.