Self-employed must seize the chance to stop Hammond's hike

PHILLIP HAMMOND'S TAX RAID on the self-employed is likely to fail for a number of obvious reasons. It contradicts a Conservative manifesto promise, it hits a particular class of voter (often considered a key Tory constituency) directly in the pocket and the Government has a slender majority.

All of this is reason for optimism that this ill-judged proposal should not make it to the statute books. The opportunity this presents for those of us who represent self-employed workers is significantly greater, however.

At the heart of this is the possibility to address a major misunderstanding about the nature of modern self employment. The BBC's News At Ten laid this bare in its report on this issue on the night of the Budget. "Small businesses got a shock when the Chancellor launched a tax raid on the self employed", it reported. "Being your own boss has become incredibly popular", it continued, before featuring an interview with the operator of a hair-dressing salon and a café owner.

The package conflated entrepreneurs, small-business owners and the self-employed into a single sector. It is an easy confusion, but one that fails to grasp the issues of significantly the largest portion this group.

The popular press was not better. Under the headline "Spite Van Man", the Sun said that this was a measure that would hit "cabbies, plumbers, and drivers". "Rob the builder" was the Daily Star splash.

The reality is that the vast majority of self-employed workers have little choice about their status in the workforce, own no capital and are not growing businesses. Like newspapers sub-editors, nail-bar technicians and day labourers, they are paid for the hours that they work but enjoy few of the other benefits of employment. Of course, some like the flexibility and variety of self-employment, but the scant tax advantages are little recompense for the insecurity, diminished benefits entitlements and lack of basic rights such as that of being represented by a trades union.

Figures from the Family Resources Survey lay this bare. In 2012-13 the median pay for the self-employed was £11,000. Not only that, but since the 2008 economic crisis, self-employed earnings have fallen by around a quarter, the House of Commons Library reported.

[NUJ President Tim Dawson; © Lucy Adams]

Yet despite there being nearly five million self-employed workers, we have not yet acted together to defend our interests. That is why the coming campaign against Hammond's NICs hike is so important. It is an opportunity for all of us who will be affected to unite to demand that our interests are understood and addressed.

At its last Congress the Trades Union Congress (TUC) resolved to campaign for the self-employed as workers - and that is what it must now do. So too must other groupings - formally constituted and otherwise. All any of us have to do is explain to our MPs why this proposal is unfair. If 1per cent of those affected by this change did so, Hammond would be forced to think again.

Of course we don't want a dishonest tax rise. Of course we want the same basic entitlements and rights as everyone else. And while we are about it, do us the courtesy of recognising the difference between the nature of the work undertaken by the vast majority of self-employed worker and the quite different work undertaken by those launching bona fide businesses, in which capital is invested and will hopefully grow.

This is the moment for all those who represent self-employed workers to come together to co-ordinate action. It is the time for self-employed workers themselves to tell their elected representatives that they are not voiceless cash cows who can be soaked to pay for failings elsewhere in the economy. It is the time for all of us who work but don't have jobs to find our voices and tell the rest of the country who we are and why we matter.