A look ahead – what will the general election mean for freelancers and contractors?

General Election 2015

It pays for freelancers, contractors and the self-employed to pay attention to what is happening politically in the country.  Regardless of the outcome of any election, the independent professional community will be affected by policy making and the winning party’s stance on the self-employed and small businesses in general.

In research published last year, IPSE found that up to 90% of their freelance membership was likely to vote in the upcoming general election. Now, with just over a week to go until the day of reckoning, interest within the freelance community is at its highest.

With election fever well and truly in full swing we wanted to take a brief look at how each of the main parties proposes to support the UK’s freelance community and how independent professionals will fare depending on which party, or which coalition, assumes power on 7th May.

Conservatives – the party of small business?

The Conservatives, throughout the course of Cameron’s first term, have prided themselves on being “the party of small businesses”, launching a number of initiatives aimed at helping small business owners get their ideas off the ground.

However, as this Crunch blog published earlier this year pointed out, most of the small business initiatives introduced by the Conservatives serve to help only small businesses, not the self-employed or single person limited companies. The Conservative’s election manifesto, however, promises to freeze National Insurance contributions, income tax rates and the tax-free personal allowance which would have an obvious positive effect on freelancers.

Cameron has spoken openly before about how he plans to sanction businesses for the late payment to contractors, or those who fail to pay at all. This is a hot topic amongst the freelance community that is sure to generate some support for a second Cameron ministry.

Labour – helping working people succeed?

Labour may find it hard to shake their history as the party that introduced IR35, a thorn in the side of many a contractor. However, in their manifesto they make many promises that, if adhered to, would indeed change the working life of the average British freelancer.

Labour has promised to not raise VAT and to improve legislation protecting small businesses from late payment, expanding upon the current Prompt Payment Code. Their proposed ‘Small Business Administration’, based on the popular US system of the same name, will exist as a way to advance support available to small business owners and remove barriers to their growth.

Labour has also pledged to increase the number of apprenticeships available within the creative and digital sectors, industries that have seen a boom in recent years especially in terms of freelancing.

Labour leader Ed Miliband received criticism earlier this month when he refused to join an IPSE Magazine hosted debate about his plans for freelancers should he triumph next week. However, the Labour manifesto appears to show that the party are beginning to take the contribution that freelancers make to the UK economy increasingly seriously.

Liberal Democrats – opportunities at heart?

It’s probably fair to say that the Liberal Democrats’ decision to form a coalition government with the Conservatives back in 2010 was a controversial one; a decision that has seen support for them affected across almost every area of the country. However, one thing that remains consistent across the Lib Dem’s pledge is their commitment to raising the personal allowance threshold.

As well as their promise to raise the threshold to at least £12,500, benefitting not just freelancers but most modestly salaried households, the Liberal Democrats also plan to introduce a series of business tax cuts that will surely help smaller businesses and limited company contractors get off the ground. One of their key policy points is the development of a national skills strategy, helping to bridge the growing technological and digital skills gap the UK is currently suffering.

Nick Clegg, Lib Dem party leader, has made himself explicitly clear on his position towards the freelancer community when he spoke to IPSE Magazine, commenting, “If you want a glimpse of the sort of worker that will thrive in the new economy, you need look no further than the growing number of self-employed professionals.” With a statement as strong as this, it’s clear that the smallest of the UKs three main parties recognises the importance of freelancers in their plans for the country’s future.

As we go into the final week ahead of the general election, the growth in influence and popularity of smaller parties on either end of the political spectrum, such as UKIP and The Green Party, cannot be ignored. The coalition government of the last five years has created space for these parties to make their voices heard on certain issues.

UKIP’s Nigel Farage has spoken of how he will prioritise tackling late payment for contractors, a popular issue addressed by most parties engaged with the freelancer communities. The Green Party have also been outlining a number of policies aimed at supporting the self-employed, including maternity and paternity pay as well as unemployment pay.

It’s no exaggeration to suggest that we live in interesting political times. The rise in freelancers over the last five years now means that the entire community has more political sway than ever before. Of course, no two freelancers will ever feel the same way for exactly the same reasons. We each have our own beliefs and agendas.

However, the closer we get to the election, the clearer it becomes that the freelance vote is an essential one for any party that wants to achieve success. For the freelance community, there has never been a time when they have held such power.

How do you think the turnout of the election next week will affect your working life? Let us know in the comments below or join the conversation with us on Twitter and our new Facebook page. Don’t forget to join us next week when we will be posting our reaction to the election results and exploring how our new government will impact the freelance community.

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