Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Why do the powers that be hate the self-employed?

If I am honest, my first reaction to seeing this headline was to send it to the only actor I know, the magnificent Roger-Ashton Griffiths as a bit of a laugh. But behind it there is a serious issue. The point the judge was making was that, legally speaking, actors are not employees, but self-employed professionals, and as such are not protected by minimum wage legislation. The same argument would apply to writers, I'm sure.

Of course it's not always possible to apply a minimum wage approach to professional activities. If you look at writing a book and consider the advance as the 'wage', hardly anyone probably earns the minimum wage writing books. But then you can't really assign hours to the activity in the same way you would sitting at a desk at work. (Do I count the half hour I spent drinking my coffee before I got up this morning, thinking about how to re-arrange a chapter?) However, there are plenty of things that self-employed professionals like actors and writers do that are time-based and in those circumstances I see no reason why they shouldn't expect a minimum of the minimum wage out of it. (Please note, BBC*.)

This attitude to the self-employed seems to reflect the larger view of the government and the establishment that the self-employed don't really count. It's over 21 years since I was drawing a salary from a large company. Ever since then I've been paying my taxes and adding to the economy (including a fair amount of export revenue, as, for instance, my books with a US publisher bring money into the country). And yet whenever the government help business, they only target that assistance at businesses than employ more than one person. In fact in the recent budget there has been a significant assault on the income of many people in my position that could mean losing over £2,000 a year.

I really do think it's time they recognise the benefits that the self-employed bring to the country. As the nature of work has been changing over the last 40 years, more people than ever are now self-employed. But the government (and, it seems, judges) live in the past where the only employment was being a 'worker' in a large company. I'd have though the Conservatives more than most parties would recognise the positive contribution self-employment makes to the economy. But it seems we aren't there yet.

* This slightly snide remark is because most of the time the BBC expects me to turn up and do things for free. But I ought to qualify this that when I recently popped over to Oxford to record a short session with a professor of philosophy (the way you do), they did pay. So I forgive them for now.

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