Self employed

Working independently is harder than it should be. We’re doing something about it

Freelancer, temp, contractor, zero hours contractor, small business? Why is getting clear, accessible info so hard?

If you’ve started working in the last fifteen years, chances are your career isn’t shaping up like your parents’.

Whereas most baby boomers got jobs, more and more of us are working independently. It’s not just freelancing, or starting businesses – we’re also more likely to be setting up side-hustles like making and selling stuff online for money or passion.

Work has become a lot more flexible: we could be on a short-term or zero-hours contract, temping through an agency, or working for a company like Deliveroo or Uber which treats us as self-employed.

When independent work means bad information or a lower income, it makes life more difficult and stressful, and that’s bad for the economy as a whole.

Together with a friend, I’m launching a platform to help. Here’s why.

Working independently can be great

At its best, independent work can be a dream: it gives you the chance to earn more and enjoy the flexibility to organise your own schedule. A lot of us enjoy it. Working independently gives us the chance to do work we’re proud of and believe in, find our best path through life, and have time to work on side projects as well.

But it’s not always easy #1: information

But independent work isn’t always like that. It isn’t even normally like that.

Firstly, a lot of independent workers feel like they’re in the dark. When you work independently, you need clear, reliable information. You don’t always know which tools and services to use, what’s good value, or what your rights are. You need to learn how to chase payments, and how to make sure you’re paying the right level of tax.

If you’re a contractor, temp, or self-employed worker you don’t always know what you’re supposed to charge, let alone the details of your entitlement to holidays, sick pay, pensions, maternity or paternity pay, or what to do if you don’t get paid at all.

But it’s not always easy #2: Independent workers tend not to make much money, which is part of a bigger problem

Secondly, independent workers tend not to make much money.

The typical self-employed person was earning roughly 40 per cent less than the typical person in employment in 2011-12. Half of all self-employed people earn £352 a week or less.

It’s not just the self-employed: wages for young people are barely rising anymore. Typical incomes for people under 34 have barely changed since 2002. Which means that someone starting work fifteen years ago most likely hasn’t had a pay rise.. but has had to deal with rising prices.

It’s harder to deal with this as an independent worker. If you don’t have a boss, you don’t really have someone to negotiate with to make sure you earn more each year. The more independent workers there are, the harder it is for typical wages to rise.

Do politicians have the answer?

I’m an independent worker, and spotted these problems emerging for me and others like me. Just one example: when I was temping, I’d get my payslip at the end of the week and realise that for all my years of formal education, if the agency had deducted something wrongly, I didn’t know if I would have spotted it.

So I started thinking about who had the power to solve these things.

At first, I figured it must be the politicians – they can set some rules by which we make sure workers are being treated well, independent or not. But after a few years working in politics, I saw for myself that that wasn’t going to happen any time soon. Most of the politicians who care about the issue of non-rising wages (and not all of them do) are themselves looking around for ways to solve it.

I talked to my friend Jenny Imhoff, an independent contractor working in tech, and realised that many of her friends and colleagues faced similar issues too. When it comes to dealing with things like tax, pensions, business structures, and a million and one other questions, you have to figure it out yourself, and a lot of the information and structures were set up for an old way of working.

Why is finding accessible, clear information so difficult?

Why is it so hard for independent workers to get clear and accessible information? Why is it so hard to earn well? After these experiences, Jenny and I decided to put our heads together to work on these problems.

We’re setting up Howbox, a site to help independent workers take more control of their working lives.

To start with, we’ll be publishing ‘how to’ articles for independent workers on tools, tips, and tactics, rights, campaigns and ways to organise and get paid properly. We’ll have a question and answer section where independent workers can learn from others’ experiences and discover campaigns, products and services that can help.

Plenty of us have solved most problems before; Howbox will be a place to share the knowhow.

When we launch we’ll have advice from Nicola Thorp, actor, campaigner and former temp who organised a petition against sexist dress codes; Adrian Gregory, who runs a temp agency and campaigns against ripoffs in the industry; Matt Perkins from 1Tap on what you’re supposed to do with your expense receipts at the end of the year, and many others.

To keep in touch, join our brand new Howbox Facebook page. We’re not going to solve all the problems of independent work overnight, but together, we can start to make it easier.

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Reader Comments

  • Macrocompassion

    Look to who owns the land of Greece and why they are not using it properly!

    Discover how much the value of the land is being speculated in by holding it unused and the resulting lack of opportunity. Why can’t small scale farmers begin their own production of farm produce and the selling of it to local suppliers for domestic consumption?

    Adam Smith (“Wealth of Nations”,
    1776) says that land is one of the 3 factors of production (the other 2 being
    labor and durable capital goods). The usefulness of land is in the price that
    tenants pay as rent, for access rights to the particular site in question. Land
    is often considered as being a form of capital, since it is traded similarly to
    other durable capital goods items. However it is not actually man-made, so rightly
    it does not fall within this category. The land was originally a gift of nature
    (if not of God) for which all people should be free to share in its use. But its
    site-value greatly depends on location and is related to the community density
    in that region, as well as the natural resources such as rivers, minerals,
    animals or plants of specific use or beauty, when or after it is possible to reach them. Consequently,
    most of the land value is created by man within his society and therefore its
    advantage should logically and ethically be returned to the community for its
    general use, as explained by Martin Adams (in “LAND”, 2015).

    However, due to our existing laws, land is owned and formally registered and its
    value is traded, even though it can’t be moved to another place, like other
    kinds of capital goods. This right of ownership gives the landlord a big
    advantage over the rest of the community because he determines how it may be
    used, or if it is to be held out of use, until the city grows and the site
    becomes more valuable. Thus speculation in land values is encouraged by the law,
    in treating a site of land as personal or private property—as if it were an
    item of capital goods, although it is not (Mason Gaffney and Fred Harrison:
    “The Corruption of Economics”, 2005).

    Regarding taxation and local community spending, the municipal taxes we pay are
    partly used for improving the infrastructure. This means that the land becomes
    more useful and valuable without the landlord doing anything—he/she will always
    benefit from our present tax regime. This also applies when the status of unused
    land is upgraded and it becomes fit for community development. Then when this
    news is leaked, after landlords and banks corruptly pay for this information,
    speculation in land values is rife. There are many advantages if the land
    values were taxed instead of the many different kinds of production-based
    activities such as earnings, purchases, capital gains, home and foreign company
    investments, etc., (with all their regulations, complications and loop-holes).
    The only people due to lose from this are those who exploit the growing values
    of the land over the past years, when “mere” land ownership confers a financial
    benefit, without the owner doing a scrap of work. Consequently, for a truly
    socially just kind of taxation to apply there can only be one
    method–Land-Value Taxation.

    Consider how land becomes
    valuable. New settlers in a region begin to specialize and this improves their
    efficiency in producing specific goods. The central land is the most valuable
    due to easy availability and least transport needed. This distribution in land
    values is created by the community and (after an initial start), not by the
    natural resources. As the city expands, speculators in land values will
    deliberately hold potentially useful sites out of use, until planning and
    development have permitted their values to grow. Meanwhile there is fierce
    competition for access to the most suitable sites for housing, agriculture and
    manufacturing industries. The limited availability of useful land means that the
    high rents paid by tenants make their residence more costly and the provision
    of goods and services more expensive. It also creates unemployment, causing
    wages to be lowered by the monopolists, who control the big producing
    organizations, and whose land was already obtained when it was cheap. Consequently
    this basic structure of our current macroeconomics system, works to limit
    opportunity and to create poverty, see above reference.

    The most basic cause of our continuing poverty is the lack of properly paid
    work and the reason for this is the lack of opportunity of access to the land
    on which the work must be done. The useful land is monopolized by a landlord
    who either holds it out of use (for speculation in its rising value), or
    charges the tenant heavily for its right of access. In the case when the
    landlord is also the producer, he/she has a monopolistic control of the land
    and of the produce too, and can charge more for this access right than what an
    entrepreneur, who seeks greater opportunity, normally would be able to afford.

    A wise and sensible government would recognize that this problem derives from
    lack of opportunity to work and earn. It can be solved by the use of a tax
    system which encourages the proper use of land and which stops penalizing
    everything and everybody else. Such a tax system was proposed 136 years ago by
    Henry George, a (North) American economist, but somehow most macro-economists
    seem never to have heard of him, in common with a whole lot of other experts.
    (I would guess that they don’t want to know, which is worse!) In “Progress and
    Poverty” 1879, Henry George proposed a single tax on land values without other
    kinds of tax on produce, services, capital gains etc. This regime of land value
    tax (LVT) has 17 features which benefit almost everyone in the economy, except
    for landlords and banks, who/which do nothing productive and find that land
    dominance has its own reward.

    17 Aspects of LVT Affecting Government, Land Owners, Communities and

    Four Aspects for Government:

    1. LVT, adds to the national
    income as do other taxation systems, but it replaces them.

    2. The cost of collecting the LVT is less than for all of the production-related
    taxes–tax avoidance becomes impossible because the sites are visible to all.

    3. Consumers pay less for their
    purchases due to lower production costs (see below). This creates greater
    satisfaction with the management of national affairs.

    4. The national economy
    stabilizes—it no longer experiences the 18 year business boom/bust cycle, due
    to periodic speculation in land values (see below).

    Six Aspects Affecting Land Owners:

    5. LVT is progressive–owners of
    the most potentially productive sites pay the most tax.

    6. The land owner pays his LVT regardless of how his site is used. A large
    proportion of the ground-rent from tenants becomes the LVT, with the result
    that land has less sales-value but a significant “rental”-value (even
    when it is not used).

    7. LVT stops speculation in land prices and
    the withholding of land from proper use is not worthwhile.

    8. The introduction of LVT initially reduces the sales price of sites, even
    though their rental value can still grow over a longer term. As more sites
    become available, the competition for them is less fierce.

    9. With LVT, land owners are unable to pass the tax on to their tenants as rent
    hikes, due to the reduced competition for access to the additional sites that
    come into use.

    10. With LVT, land prices will
    initially drop. Speculators in land values will want to foreclose on their
    mortgages and withdraw their money for reinvestment. Therefore LVT should be
    introduced gradually, to allow these speculators sufficient time to transfer
    their money to company-shares etc., and simultaneously to meet the increased
    demand for produce (see below).

    Three Aspects Regarding Communities:

    11. With LVT, there is an
    incentive to use land for production or residence, rather than it being unused.

    12. With LVT, greater working opportunities exist due to cheaper land and a
    greater number of available sites. Consumer goods become cheaper too, because
    entrepreneurs have less difficulty in starting-up their businesses and because
    they pay less ground-rent–demand grows, unemployment decreases.

    13. Investment money is withdrawn from land and placed in durable capital
    goods. This means more advances in technology and cheaper goods too.

    Four Aspects About Ethics:

    14. The collection of taxes from
    productive effort and commerce is socially unjust. LVT replaces this extortion
    by gathering the surplus rental income, which comes without any exertion from
    the land owner or by the banks–LVT is a natural system of national income-gathering.

    15. Bribery and corruption on information
    about land cease. Before, this was due
    to the leaking of news of municipal plans for housing and industrial
    development, causing shock-waves in local land prices (and municipal workers’ and
    lawyers’ bank balances).

    16. The improved use of the more
    central land reduces the environmental damage due to a) unused sites
    being dumping-grounds, and b) the smaller amount of fossil-fuel use, when
    traveling between home and workplace.

    17. Because the LVT eliminates
    the advantage that landlords currently hold over our society, LVT provides a
    greater equality of opportunity to earn a living. Entrepreneurs can operate in
    a natural way– to provide more jobs. Then earnings will correspond to the
    value that the labor puts into the product or service. Consequently, after LVT
    has been properly introduced it will eliminate poverty and improve business