Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson are absolutely right to highlight the growing proportion of the British workforce who are self-employed and the importance of putting their needs at the heart of Labour’s economic policy.

Figures published by Co-operatives UK, Britain’s network of co-operative businesses, this month show that self-employment as a proportion of employment in the UK has increased from 11.6 per cent in 1985 to 15 per cent in 2015.  They also show that since 2008 the average earnings from self-employment have dropped from £15,000 to £10,400 – a median weekly income of £207.

As the new Labour leader pointed out at last month’s Labour Party Conference, freelancers lack the social protection of those in traditional employment, particularly in relation to a lack of sick pay, paid maternity leave, holiday pay and redundancy.

Launching their ‘Precariat Index’ Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, said: “Precariousness is coming to define our time. Particularly for younger people, the expectation of a secure job and stable home seems more far-fetched than ever.  Self-employment, of course, provides freedom and flexibility. But it also brings insecurity.”

Looking for ways to extend workplace rights to the self-employed is an important goal, but as we in the labour and co-operative movement’s also know, it is through collective endeavor that we can achieve greater strength and protection.  For at least 150 years co-operative structures and principles have been a vital mechanism for achieving this and this is just as true today as it ever has been.

In response to the growing trend of music teachers losing their jobs working for Local Authorities, the Musicians Union and Co-operatives UK have been supporting the development of music teacher co-operatives.  These new organisations are providing a new way of providing unity and security as an alternative to isolation and competition.  Recently, the Musicians Union launched  ‘Altogether Now’ guide which provides practical help for groups of music teachers considering co-operative models.

The experience of music teachers, but also artists, driving instructors and social care workers, demonstrates that by coming together they can share the costs of practical services, demand fairer treatment and increase their job security.

The challenge is often one of lack of easily accessible support and knowledge about how to form new co-operatives.  In England, there is no single government backed co-operative development agency – unlike in Wales and Scotland – and knowledge of co-operative structures is limited among mainstream business advisers.

In the months ahead, the Co-operative Party will strongly support the new Labour leadership team and its shadow ministers as they develop their offer to the self-employed; and trade unions like the MU and Community who have recognised the changing face of work in Britain and are developing a trade union ‘offer’ that meets these needs.  In addition, we will be working with the co-operative movement, including Co-operatives UK, to raise the profile of co-operative solutions and make the case for the practical help necessary to move them from the periphery to the mainstream.

Claire McCarthy is head of external and political affairs at the Co-operative Party