David Cameron has repeatedly proclaimed the Conservatives are “the party of small businesses” – in fact he did so just this Monday during a speech announcing an extension of the Startup Loans scheme.
The list of small business support schemes launched by the current Government is certainly impressive: Startup Loans, National Insurance Holidays, New Enterprise Allowance, the Employment Allowance, Employee Shareholder Contracts and Vince Cable’s Business Bank to name just a few.
Most of these schemes have two things in common. Firstly, they are designed to support small businesses (the official definition of which, is businesses with 50 employees or fewer) and secondly, they provide absolutely no benefit for one-person businesses.
The Employment Allowance is a prime example. This scheme allows business owners to forego their first £2,000 in Employer National Insurance contributions every year, meaning many tiny businesses with modestly salaried employees will pay no Employer NICs whatsoever. However, the Allowance only applies to Class 1 National Insurance contributions. The self-employed pay Class 2 & 4 contributions, meaning they can’t take advantage of this scheme.
While Cameron and co. have been diligently ignoring the UK’s self-employed population, it’s been growing steadily for several years and there is now roughly one freelancer or contractor for every six full-time employees. Suddenly, despite little support from Westminster, independent professionals are a force to be reckoned with.
If the self-employed were to form their own political party it would have had the fourth largest vote share at the 2010 General Election (not accounting for the votes it would have taken away from the other parties, and assuming a 100% turnout – this is a hypothetical, after all).
Due to haemorrhaging support for the Liberal Democrats and the rise of smaller parties like UKIP and the Greens, a self-employed voting bloc would be the third largest at the 2015 General Election (projections via electionforecast.co.uk).
The other way of looking at a coordinated political movement of self-employed workers is as analogous to a trade union – and in that respect the floor is thoroughly wiped. The largest union – Unite – has a membership of around 1.5 million – there are three times as many independent professionals in the UK.
Of course it’s unrealistic to expect every self-employed worker in the UK to vote for the same political party – people have their own beliefs, agendas and priorities. However, we polled 330 freelancers, contractors and small business owners and 55% reported they would be more likely to vote for a party whose policies benefited their business directly.
That means there are around 2.5 million UK voters who will back the party which prioritises support for one-person and micro-businesses at the General Election. The votes are there for the taking – which party will truly back the self-employed this year?
What do you think?
Who has promised what?
We’ve rounded up the manifesto pledges from the six main parties here:
Photos by CGP Grey & Wikipedia Commons