As conference season progresses for Westminster parties, the political profile of the UK’s professional contracting and freelancing community continues to rise, with the Conservatives being the latest to engage in an IPSE-hosted fringe event.

Conservative delegates packed the room to listen to IPSE chief executive Chris Bryce, MP David Rutley, Demos contributor Duncan O’Leary, and parliamentary party candidate Rebecca Coulson. The meeting was chaired by Guardian journalist Tom Clark and addressed the staggering rise in the number of freelancers in the UK.

What has fuelled the spectacular rise in freelancing? Mr Rutley was very clear: push and pull factors were both at play, he said, but most people had opted for freelancing and self-employment because they wanted to. Mr O’Leary pushed the debate on to what the policy implications are of having a 4.6 million-strong freelancer and self-employed workforce, which of course includes a rising number of Umbrella Company Employees.

Mr Bryce drew from the IPSE manifesto to reply: pension reforms, cuts in business rates and converting unused office space into freelancer work hubs would all be welcome measures.

A reflection of how important the freelance and self-employed community is becoming to politicians emerged in contributions from the two Tory speakers, Mr Rutley and Ms Coulson. Both expressed concern that the Conservative party had drifted away from its traditional support for freelancers and the self-employed, allowing Labour to move into the space it had once occupied.

Mr Bryce was quick to point out that 4.6 million voters could no longer be ignored. The phenomenon now appears to be firmly on the radar for the mainstream Westminster parties.

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