Work, Inequalities and the Lifecourse Research Group Seminar Series, Southampton Solent University

Pitts, F. H. (Invited speaker)

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesInvited talk


'Get SMart: Self-employment, Universal Credit and institutional experimentation beyond Taylor’s British Way'
SMart is a growing cooperative labour market intermediary for independent and self-employed workers which acts somewhat like a de facto employer, processing and chasing transactions with clients, guaranteeing income via a mutual fund and smoothing volatile monthly incomes in the form of a regular salary. Pioneered in Belgium and expanding into other continental European countries, the SMart model does not currently have a presence in the United Kingdom. Focusing on one potential contribution SMart could make to the representation and organisation of the self-employed in the United Kingdom, this paper explores how SMart, by recalibrating the formal employment status of independent workers, may help the self-employed collectively address challenges associated with the controversial rollout of the government’s Universal Credit welfare reforms. The Minimum Income Floor that sits at the centre of the latter, and determines whether or not claimants can receive support, does not accommodate the volatile monthly incomes to which the self-employed are subject, with some 400,000 of the 700,000 anticipated self-employed claimants of the Universal Credit forecast to fall foul of it. By addressing the issue of volatility, SMart may stand a potential solution. In making this argument, the paper explores the obstacles and opportunities for ‘institutional experimentation’ afforded by the policy and political context of the government-commissioned Taylor Review, in particular the latter’s proposal of new forms of ‘Worker Tech’ to represent the unrepresented in the gig economy, its consideration of the need for strengthened worker status to bolster protections, and its suggestion of a specific ‘British Way’ with reference to labour markets and industrial relations. Concluding that contrary to the prescription of a British Way we can learn from European experiments in new institutions for the self-employed, the paper assesses whether the implementation of the SMart model is a feasible way for the 700,000 self-employed workers forecast to claim the Universal Credit to collectively weather a situation in which it seems, according to the recent Budget statement, the unpopular and heavily contested policy is here to stay.
Period13 Mar 2019
Event typeSeminar
LocationSouthampton, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionLocal