Election 2024: Future of self-employment and freelancing 

Freelancers Election 2024

Prospect represents over 20,000 self-employed and freelance members, predominantly in the Bectu sector, in key roles across the creative industries. 

 Self-employed workers contributed £305 billion to the UK’s economic output in 2019 – 14% of GDP. In 2023, this increased to £331 billion.  

But despite their essential contribution, the self-employed and freelancers get a raw deal. They’re more exposed to the ebbs and flows of the business cycle, and lack many of the protections enjoyed by employees, such as sick pay, flexible working hours, parental rights and pensions.  

The boom-and-bust nature of much of the creative industries is leaving freelancers hugely exposed and vulnerable, so only the wealthiest can survive. 

The problem

  • The pandemic highlighted how truly vulnerable freelance employment can be as hundreds of thousands of self-employed workers were considered ineligible for government support, including the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), and couldn’t access the Culture Recovery Fund 
  • Much of this is due to a lack of government understanding surrounding tax and employment status. 
  • Bad practice and poor terms and conditions are often common for freelancers due to their lack of employment protections. Provisions like flexible working hours, term time working, career breaks, parental leave, job sharing, and sabbaticals are granted to employees but not to the self-employed or freelancers 
  • A lack of structural procedures and HR protections mean that the self-employed are particularly vulnerable to bullying and harassment 
  • The government has not delivered on the commitments it made on good work following the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices. In recent years, the incomes of the self-employed have fallen further behind those of employees. 
  • Self-employed workers are more vulnerable than employees to loss of work altogether, as we have seen over the past year in the Bectu sector amidst industrial action in the US. The ongoing slowdown in film and TV production has continued into 2024, with a Bectu survey from February 2024 showing a shocking work drought: 68% of respondents were not currently working. Many are planning to leave the sector altogether. 
  • The current work drought is pushing the film and TV workforce to breaking point – 88% are concerned about their financial security over the next six months and 75% are struggling with their mental health.

“I have never known a more dire situation in television in twenty years. Every freelancer I know is unemployed. Every freelancer I know is extremely worried about money, growing debt and the future of production. Freelancers are already living precarious lives. Now it is untenable.”
Unscripted TV producer 

Film and TV workers currently not working 68%
Contribution to the UK’s economic output in 2019 14%
Freelancers in the Cultural and Creative industries 28%

What we want to see happen

We believe that a voice at work and good employment rights for all delivers a healthier and more productive workforce.  

We want the next government to:  

1. Modernise protections and entitlements for the self-employed

As part of a broader reform package on the legislative and institutional landscape on workers’ rights. 

2. Give the self-employed and freelancers access to rights afforded to employees

This includes emergency family leave, paid parental leave including adoption pay, paternity and maternity pay.  

3. Improve working lives of the self-employed through policies that support health, safety and wellbeing at work 

This will empower workers to act collectively to improve working conditions and supporting the self-employed to upskill and reskill throughout their career.  

4. Provide financial security and support for the self-employed

This can be achieved through policies such as equalising sick pay, bringing leave and flexibility entitlements for self-employed new parents into line with those enjoyed by employees and provide income security that reflects the risks faced by the self-employed. 

5. Support self-employed businesses through developing an ecosystem of business support

This should also include financing that together creates inclusive access to self-employment.  

6. Ensure contracts and businesses are paid on time 

And modernise the pensions system to meet the needs of self-employed people. 

7. Use public procurement to drive up standards

This can help level the playing field for the self-employed.

8. Establish a safety net for freelancers 

Across Europe, there are schemes the government could learn from to do so. In France, the ‘regime des salaries intermittent du spectacle’ provides an unemployment insurance scheme for creative workers which provides benefits for periods of unemployment, providing they had a significant number of hours in work.

9. Appoint a dedicated Freelance Commissioner

Who will work with trade unions and relevant industries to champion and advocate for the freelance workforce.

*Note: This page reflects current Prospect thinking. Prospect National Conference takes place in early June. Relevant new policy agreed at Conference will be reflected here shortly afterwards.

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