• International Workplace
  • 27 November 2019

Call for new government to create a National Minimum Wage for the self-employed

A new report from think tank Demos, looking at financial security for the modern, liquid workforce is calling for the next government to introduce a Self-Employed National Minimum Wage, as a crucial step towards improving financial security for lower paid self-employed workers.

The move would provide a legal obligation on firms to pay their contractors this minimum rate and would give leverage to the solo self-employed to raise their labour rates.

Demos is calling for the Self-Employed National Minimum Wage to be higher than the regular National Minimum Wage to cover the additional risk lower-paid self-employed workers are bearing as a result of their financial insecurity.

The research, published on 20 November, which was supported by NatWest, also found that ‘liquid’ workers, such as gig economy workers and the self-employed, face greater barriers to financial inclusion compared to traditional workers. They are less likely to hold financial products and are almost twice as likely (28%) to be turned down for financial products due to their employment history than traditional employees (15%).

The report’s findings support previous research from IPSE which found that an overwhelming majority (90%) of self-employed people worry about their current financial situation, with 36% not feeling secure about their financial future.

The research also revealed that:

  • There is serious concern among workers on zero-hour contracts – they are more than twice as likely (31%) to feel very stressed and anxious about their finances than employees (15%) in the last year.
  • The ‘liquid workforce’ are over three times more likely to earn very low incomes than traditional workers, with 22% of liquid workers earning less than £10,000 per year compared to just 7% of employees. However, they are also slightly more likely to fall in a number of higher income brackets.
  • Liquid workers are nearly twice as likely (28%) to turn to a payday lender to meet credit needs than employees (16%).
  • Whilst valuing flexibility, almost half of liquid workers (48%) would be willing to sacrifice some flexibility in the way they work for greater financial security – particularly those at the lower end of the income spectrum – whilst 21% of liquid workers would be unwilling to do so.

The report calls for a package of solutions to improve financial security for the liquid workforce, including a minimum wage, better financial services for people on flexible incomes, a more inclusive welfare system, measures to radically boost pensions take-up, and more support with financial management.

The report’s further recommendations include:

  • An auto-enrolment pension scheme for the solo self-employed with the government acting as their ‘de facto’ employer.
  • The government working with organisations, such as trade unions and banks, to establish universal portable benefit schemes for liquid workers.
  • A means-tested ‘accountancy aid’ to help liquid workers manage their finances.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Ben Glover, Senior Researcher at Demos and The Liquidity Trap co-author said:

“Self-employed workers are not protected by the safety net that many of us take for granted, from sick pay to maternity cover. This bargain is only fair if self-employed people earn enough to cover the additional risk they take on, but too often in Britain today this is simply not happening. That’s why we are calling for a new, higher minimum wage for the self-employed.”

Marcelino Castrillo, Managing Director of Personal & Premier Distribution, NatWest, said:

“The liquid workforce now accounts for 15% of the UK labour market and continues to grow. With the rate of innovation and change within the financial services sector, it is vital that we explore how the workforce is changing and how this will impact their financial services requirements. In order to support a strong workforce and a strong economy we need to make sure we are reviewing our business models to keep up with these changing needs.” 

The current National Minimum Wage rates for 2019/20 are:

  • 25 and over – £8.21p/h
  • 21 to 24 – £7.70p/h
  • 18 to 20 – £6.15p/h
  • Under 18 – £4.35p/h