Universal Credit consultation

Not good news for freelances

THE GOVERNMENT is proposing replacing Tax Credits - claimed by a lot of self-employed people (that's us) - and other benefits such as Child Tax Credit, JobSeekers' Allowance (JSA), and Housing Benefit. In their place will rise a "Universal Credit" - supposedly simpler to administer.

While most of this scheme can be enacted via a couple of pieces of "secondary legislation" that will be put before Parliament in only a token fashion, the government considers the Universal Credits plan to be of such "magnitude" that it's running a consultation on it anyway. If you currently claim Tax Credits, Family Credits and the like, or have someone close to you who does (don't we all these days?), please submit contributions to the consultation, by 27 July.

The consultation is here, but the Universal Credits plan is a particularly complicated one - so complicated that there don't seem to have been many attempts made to unpick it. See, as counter-examples, a Guardian comment piece on the subject, a news archive of Universal Credit-related articles and a well-informed campaigning blog.

At first glance, Universal Credit seems bad news for the self-employed on low incomes, and part-time workers in general, which means an awful lot of people right now.

Currently, if you are working more than 18 hours a week and still claiming some benefits, there are no "sanctions" that can be placed on you - your benefits are in this case based purely on your low income. This will change.

Universal Credit will come with "work conditionality requirements" for anybody working less than 35 hours a week, which will make it harder to survive on, or to keep, a part-time job. Freelances on Universal Credit would face sanctions if they didn't immediately give up their part-time work if (any) full-time work came along.

The self-employed under these proposals would seem to face the prospect of being forced to give up their occupation to take even temporary work for low wages. There's even the possibility they will face humiliating "Gateway Interviews", a sort of Dragon's Den where their business plans - for example their strategies for soliciting freelance work from clients - will be rejected, after which they'll be conscripted into (any) waged work or a so-called "training scheme".

Universal Credit will also replace Housing Benefit - currently with no conditions attached other than low income - causing predictable havoc.

Watch this space for an imminent and more detailed analysis of the Universal Credit plan, with arguments and evidence to use when responding to the consultation. LFB is on the case, with its Committee member Rosanne Adelman as its Universal Credit campaigner, and the NUJ is expected to submit its own contribution to the consultation. The NUJ is also in touch with other unions with members in related occupations on this issue.

Last modified: 04 Jul 2012 - © 2012 contributors
The Freelance editor is elected by London Freelance Branch and responsibility for content lies solely with the editor of the time
Send comments to the editor: editor@londonfreelance.org