EDITORIAL
The Self-Organ­ising Self-Employed
Dave Howell Editor

Dave How­ell
Busi­ness for Begin­ners

A new report from the RSA and FSB con­firms that the micro busi­ness com­munity con­tin­ue to look to them­selves for sup­port and advice as gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to ignore this grow­ing and vital group of busi­nesses.
Read­ing the new report from the think-tank the RSA (Roy­al Soci­ety for the encour­age­ment of Arts, Man­u­fac­tures and Com­merce) and the Fed­er­a­tion of Small Busi­ness (FSB) that looks at how the small busi­ness com­munity man­age risk, I found myself nod­ding, as the report reveals what I think most micro busi­ness own­ers feel: that they have to find their own ways to mit­ig­ate risk – often turn­ing to trus­ted friends and col­leagues.

As the report states: “The rollcall will now be famil­i­ar to some read­ers: the self-employed have no access to Stat­utory Sick Pay should they fall ill, they have no right to Patern­ity or Adop­tion Pay should they become a new par­ent, they have no equi­val­ent of an employ­er top­ping up their private pen­sion, and the intro­duc­tion of a Nation­al Liv­ing Wage has passed them by. Their income can also be char­ac­ter­ised by peri­ods of feast and fam­ine as cli­ent demand changes – cir­cum­stances not helped by late pay­ments.”

As the report states: “The rollcall will now be famil­i­ar to some read­ers: the self-employed have no access to Stat­utory Sick Pay should they fall ill, they have no right to Patern­ity or Adop­tion Pay should they become a new par­ent, they have no equi­val­ent of an employ­er top­ping up their private pen­sion, and the intro­duc­tion of a Nation­al Liv­ing Wage has passed them by. Their income can also be char­ac­ter­ised by peri­ods of feast and fam­ine as cli­ent demand changes – cir­cum­stances not helped by late pay­ments.”

In the face of the ignor­ance that gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to dis­play – only men­tion­ing the legions of self-employed when tax­a­tion ques­tions raise their heads — new altern­at­ive forms of sup­port have been developed:

RICOL
A Lon­don-based lan­guage co-oper­at­ive run by and for self-employed lan­guage pro­fes­sion­als (inter­pret­ers, trans­lat­ors and lan­guage teach­ers). RICOL mar­kets the ser­vices of its mem­bers and con­nects them to cli­ents, but at a frac­tion of the cost of a typ­ic­al agency.

Swin­don Music Cooper­at­ive
A group of inde­pend­ent music teach­ers who have clubbed togeth­er to pool the costs of mar­ket­ing, admin­is­tra­tion and debt col­lec­tion. It also coordin­ates peer-to-peer learn­ing among teach­ers and arranges pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment train­ing.

Out­land­ish and CoTech
Out­land­ish is a work­er coop where tech developers pool all their assets into one organ­iz­a­tion, with each person’s pay set accord­ing to their exper­i­ences and needs (to a max­im­um pay dif­fer­en­tial of 1:3).” CoTech is a col­lect­ive of coops’ that allows tech coops like Out­land­ish to share staff time.

IndyCube and Com­munity Uni­on
Com­munity Uni­on has teamed up with IndyCube co-work­ing space net­work to give their self-employed mem­bers access to a pack­age of afford­able invoice factor­ing and leg­al advice ser­vices.

East End Trades Guild
A com­munity of small, inde­pend­ent busi­nesses in East Lon­don that use com­munity organ­ising meth­ods to hold the gov­ern­ment and loc­al land­lords to account. Wins include pro­tect­ing ten­ants from evic­tion and con­trolling rent increases.

These innov­a­tions are a start and illus­trate that there is a clear need for more high pro­file – and well-fun­ded – ser­vices that the micro busi­ness com­munity can draw upon. I have crit­ic­al ill­ness cov­er and life insur­ance, but these are expens­ive – par­tic­u­larly the former. A full-range of risk man­age­ment fin­an­cial product would be ideal, but I’m not hold­ing my breath for these to appear on the open com­mer­cial mar­ket, or any­thing back by the gov­ern­ment.

“Wheth­er it is tech developers shar­ing work­loads, inter­pret­ers and trans­lat­ors pool­ing mar­ket­ing costs, or freel­an­cers of all kinds club­bing togeth­er to cre­ate col­lect­ive sick pay funds, the scope for self-organ­ising to improve the lives of the self-employed is huge.”
Com­ment­ing on the report, RSA Asso­ci­ate Dir­ect­or, Bene­dict Del­lot said: “Wheth­er it is tech developers shar­ing work­loads, inter­pret­ers and trans­lat­ors pool­ing mar­ket­ing costs, or freel­an­cers of all kinds club­bing togeth­er to cre­ate col­lect­ive sick pay funds, the scope for self-organ­ising to improve the lives of the self-employed is huge.

With our polit­ic­al insti­tu­tions gripped in tur­moil, now more than ever work­ers need to look to them­selves for a help­ing hand. It will take a Her­culean effort of will and ima­gin­a­tion for self-organ­ising to go from the mar­gins to the main­stream, but it is right to be ambi­tious. What’s to stop us from real­ising a future where co-oper­at­ive mem­ber­ship is the norm for busi­ness own­ers, where there is a col­lect­ive sick pay fund in every town, and where user-own plat­form cooper­at­ives give gig work­ers a stake in the on-demand industry they toil for.”

With FSB Nation­al Chair­man, Mike Cherry con­clud­ing: “It is heart­en­ing to hear of, and see, col­lab­or­at­ive and enter­pris­ing ini­ti­at­ives like these crop­ping up in the UK. How­ever, the stark real­ity is, the Gov­ern­ment has not been quick enough to recog­nise the ‘sea-change’ towards self-employ­ment and many are being left behind. The self-employed have few­er rights and fun­da­ment­ally take on far more risk than employ­ees.

For example, when they fall ill they lack access to crit­ic­al bene­fits such as sick pay that many employ­ees take for gran­ted. The gov­ern­ment needs to do more to act­ively sup­port the self-employed includ­ing intro­du­cing changes that would break down the reg­u­lat­ory bar­ri­ers to self-organ­ising arrange­ments. This will help reduce the risk for many self-employed and giv­ing them the peace of mind that employ­ees have when faced with hard­ship in their life.”

Co-oper­at­ives, friendly soci­et­ies and cred­it uni­ons have always exis­ted, but they do seem an ideal vehicle to sup­port the grow­ing num­bers of micro busi­ness own­ers that need their ser­vices, but ser­vices re-shaped for 21st Cen­tury small busi­nesses. As always, the inde­pend­ent drive all micro busi­ness own­ers feel is will­ing new ser­vices into exist­ence.