Friday, October 2, 2015

2/10/15: The plight of Irish self-employed and our backward economic policies

This is a copy of the Business Retail Union of Ireland public letter sent to the Minister for Social Protection regarding equal treatment of the self-employed in Ireland:

Source: @brui_ie

The key questions raised in this letter are other questions of great importance to this country for a number of reasons are:

  1. Per latest CSO data there were 327,500 self-employed persons in Ireland in 2Q 2015, constituting 16.9 percent of total employment in the country. The number of self-employed persons is roughly comparable to the current counts of people on Live Register (332,000). Which means these are hardly ‘negligible’ or ‘small’ numbers. What is being done to make sure these people have access to basic, normal, civilised levels of representation in the economic and social system that is, allegedly, modern Ireland?
  2. Self-employed people in Ireland face upfront tax penalty for their activities in terms of higher rates of taxation and higher cost of tax compliance. Why? Where is the balance between proportionality of taxation and representation?
  3. Self-employed people in Ireland have no access to basic social protection benefits that PAYE workers can avail of. Why? Where is the balance between social services access based on need vs access based on privilege of arbitrary categories of employment?
  4. Self-employed people in Ireland have no access to basic training and jobs activation schemes that PAYE workers can avail of. Why? Again, per (3) above, where is that balance?
  5. Self-employed people in Ireland are discriminated against in access to state pensions. Same questions as in (4).
  6. Self-employed people in Ireland have to deal with huge degree of income volatility with our tax system inducing more uncertainty in their after-tax income than PAYE workers. Why is that the financial markets operate on a basic principle of risk premium, whilst markets for human capital operate on the basis of risk penalty?
  7. Self-employed people in Ireland have no basic supports in terms of annual holidays, sick leave, family leave, etc and are often placed at severe disadvantage compared to some PAYE and public sector workers in terms of jobs-related benefits. Which, of course, is understandable, but reinforces the point made in (6) above.

Many of the above differences cannot (and probably should not) be removed by state policies (e.g. (7)). Others can. None have been removed and no one - in our leadership establishment - appears to, frankly put, give a damn.

However, the reality of modern workforce is that:

  • Self-employment is going to rise dramatically in the future as our economy moves further and further along the lines of developing skills, professional occupations employment and a ‘gig’-economy. In simple terms, global economy is becoming more and more self-employment intensive and Ireland can’t avoid the same fate, no matter how ignorant our policymakers remain;
  • The recent decline (on pre-crisis trend) in self-employment is driven by the sheer mass of economic activity destruction in Ireland since the onset of the Global Financial Crisis, highlighting the extreme nature of jobs and income security volatility faced by the self-employed;
  • Self-employment is set to expand in the future as we become more entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial.

If anything, current penalty to the self-employed should not only be erased, but reversed, due to higher risk nature of their work, they deserve a risk premium, not a risk penalty in the markets.

It is high time we gave a thought as to how on earth can we continue developing an entrepreneurial modern, human capital-based economy whilst penalising starting entrepreneurs and people taking risk deploying their skills through self-employment. Bragging about ‘entrepreneurial Ireland’ and ‘knowledge economy’ at international venues can’t get us anywhere, if we fail to first reform ourselves. The mentality of civil service ‘jobs-for-life’ entitlement culture that dominates our policy formation has to change. Good starting point - addressing the above issues for the self-employed.

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