WHEN Philip Hammond announced an increase in tax for self-employed workers in his budget on March 8th, many asked whether the Conservatives still stood for the “strivers”, as they have long claimed to do. Not only did Mr Hammond break a manifesto promise by raising the rate of class four national-insurance contributions (NICs), a tax on the profits of self-employed people. He also cut the value of dividends that investors could withdraw from their companies tax-free.

As the self-employed fumed, experts swooned. Mr Hammond’s move nudges the tax system closer to their rational ideal, bringing the taxes paid by the self-employed closer to those paid by employees. Once, the lower rate of NICs paid by the self-employed—which equates to a subsidy of £1,240 ($1,510) per person, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a research institute—was justified by their worse state-pension entitlement. But as of last April that is not the case. The self-employed still lack benefits like sick pay or maternity pay. Mr Hammond has commissioned a review to look into it.

Taken in conjunction with another forthcoming tweak to NICs, 1.6m people will pay more. Analysis by the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank, finds that 96% of the extra tax will be paid by the highest-earning half of households. Those struggling in low-paid jobs in the “gig economy” will be exempt. Self-employed hairdressers, who earn £12,700 a year on average, will see their annual NICs bill drop by £70. Taxi-drivers, earning an average of £17,300 a year, will fork out an extra £20. Those making £51,100 a year, the average for a self-employed management consultant, will send an extra £620 to the exchequer.

There is still a gaping hole between taxes paid by employees and the self-employed. Companies face an incentive to hire self-employed workers, to avoid paying their own NICs of 13.8%. Mr Hammond could go further and close this gap. But there is political risk involved in swiping at the self-employed, who make up around 15% of Britain’s workers.

Lowering the threshold of dividends that can be withdrawn tax-free, from £5,000 a year to £2,000, will hit some of the same people. Those affected will find their wallets lighter to the tune of £320 a year, on average. Most of the cash will be stumped up by higher-rate taxpayers. The government also hopes to hold back the surge of people registering themselves as company directors. Since 2008 the number of company owner-managers has almost doubled, which looks more like mass tax-dodging than a surge of enterprise.

These changes are sensible, but may not raise as much money as Mr Hammond hopes. In targeting the self-employed he is taking aim at a particularly slippery form of tax revenue—and giving those who would pay it a year’s notice.