But hold on. This is crazy. In fact, the self-employed, far from being a problem, are the solution to the wider labour crisis.
First, they are very flexible. It is hard to shift employees from one role to another. There are unions to consult, HR procedures to follow and the constant threat of being taken to a tribunal if a company doesn’t tick every box imaginable. Hours can’t be scaled up or down without breaching some kind of labour law. Nor can workforces easily be expanded or contracted.
Yet with the labour market in a state of rapid flux, and probably more so than at any time in the last 30 years, flexibility will be key while we work out where people are most needed and how much they need to be paid. The self-employed can provide that in a way that employees simply cannot.
Next, they work harder than anyone else. One survey found that on average someone working for themselves put in 14 more hours a week than someone on staff. Anecdotally, anyone who works for themselves will confirm that.
Typically they get paid by the hour, or output, or project, and they are usually more worried than they really need to be about where the next gig is coming from. If the 25m staffers in the UK put in another 14 hours a week, up from the current average of 36 hours, the labour crisis would be fixed in no time at all.
Finally, it is the one sector that draws new people into employment. Whether it is working mothers, older workers (especially the over-65s) or minority groups who might face discrimination, self-employment has always appealed most to the people who, for whatever reason, find it hard to fit into traditional workplaces.
Sure, businesses can clamour for more visas to ship in Hugarians, even though there is not much evidence they want to come to Britain any more, but there are still huge reserves of labour in the UK. The question is how to tap into them – and self-employment is the answer.
We have spent the last decade cracking down, harassing, and marginalising the self-employed. Over the last couple of weeks, we have started to see the impact of that on the petrol forecourts. Over the next few months we may well see it in other sectors that have always relied heavily on people working for themselves such as IT, finance, and care services.
Here’s a radical idea. Cut the self-employed some slack, stop trying to tax them into oblivion, and show them some love instead.
We will find the labour shortage has suddenly been fixed.