Independent working is becoming ever more popular. But who reaps the benefits? Colin Newlyn puts forward the argument that independents should see more of the Freelancer Dividend.
More and more people are becoming freelancers or independent workers of some description, providing a growing economic benefit to the economy. The key issue is not about the size of this benefit but about the distribution. Put simply, who should get the Freelancer Dividend?
This particular tug-of-war pits the heavyweights of government, public organisations and large corporations against the freelance minnows. It currently resembles that bit in David Attenborough’s ‘The Blue Planet’ documentary when the shoal of anchovies meets the troup of tuna. It becomes a feeding frenzy and it doesn’t end well for the anchovies. Which ones would you rather be swimming with?
The thing is that we need people to choose to be with the anchovies because that is going to be better for our economy, and for all of us, in the longer term. If we allow the tuna to continue to gobble up all the anchovies, there is going to be less and less fish in the sea. For everyone.
Before I exhaust this analogy, let me put it in economic terms. Having an increasing number of freelancers gives us a much more flexible economy, releasing skills and initiative and making a wide range of resources available to businesses of all sizes. This enables all businesses to quickly assemble the teams they need on a project basis, and to get access to the best people for each role. It also allows businesses to adapt and flex so that they can deal with rapidly changing circumstances and take advantage of new opportunities.
In short, it equips ‘UK plc’ to thrive in the new and dynamic global economy.
However, if we leave the balance of power with the large public and private sector organisations then they will use this as a way to avoid paying tax, avoid contributing to the health and education of the workforce and to drive down wages (or the equivalent). Although this will provide a short-term boost to profits and, by extension, their bonuses, it is unsustainable as the quality of the freelance resource pool will be inexorably driven down.
Similarly, government can duck any obligation to provide support to this segment of the workforce as they effectively remove themselves from the unemployment count and from access to benefits. Uniquely as a group, if they cannot find work due to the state of the economy, their needs and requirements are ignored and go unserved.
How can it be fair that this emerging segment of the workforce, already greater in number than those employed by large firms, are treated less well than those in employment or on benefits? How can it make sense to hobble the chances of the very group that are making the economy more dynamic and competitive?
Freelancers are not asking for special treatment. They are simply asking for a level playing field, for their needs and requirements to be considered at the same level as all the other stakeholders in the UK economy. The status and contribution of freelancers needs to be recognised and legislated for so that they can negotiate with large organisations on an equally basis and access support from the state when they most need it.
It’s time that action was taken to ensure the Freelancer Dividend is shared equally, for the benefit of all our citizens.
Colin Newlyn is a Technology product leader, marketer, strategist, change agent. You can read more at his blog.