Self-employed reject their way of working as ‘second best’

Claims by Britain’s freelance body that the UK boom in self-employment smacks of a structural shift in the labour market, rather than a side effect of the recession, appear to have been vindicated by an independent think-tank.

In fact, a wide-ranging report into the self-employed by the Resolution Foundation states that the rise in such independent workers “cannot simply be explained by workers settling for ‘second best’” during the economic downturn.

Firstly, explains the foundation in its report, self-employment in the UK has been steadily rising since the early 2000s – well before the recession began.

Secondly, an overwhelming majority (73 per cent) of people who have become self-employed in the last five years say doing so was “mainly or partly” their personal preference.

Of this population – those who have gone it alone since 2009 – approximately the same proportion, seven out of ten individuals, say they prefer being self-employed to any other way of working.

Among all self-employed people, not just those who took the plunge in the last five years, this preference for freelancing, trading independently or working for themselves, rises to more than eight in ten individuals (83%).

Although there is a clear link between unemployment during the recession and the newly self-employed (roughly a third of the growth in self-employment since the recession’s end has come from jobless people), the preference for self-employment is clear.

In particular, the number of people saying they’d prefer to no longer be their own boss is less than a fifth or, at its highest, is just over a quarter – among those who became self-employed since 2009.

“Only a quarter of the self-employed say they would prefer a regular job,” reflected Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos MORI, which surveyed self-employed people on behalf of the foundation.

“Self-employment has grown across most parts of the workforce and a sizeable number of the self-employed would describe themselves as entrepreneurs.”

In line with his comments, just over one in three of the self-employed say they are ‘entrepreneurs,’ but the description that the majority of such independent workers are more comfortable with is ’working for themselves.’

Meanwhile, the chunk of self-employed people identified as freelancers appears to have increased, specifically after the recession, but in total only 14 per cent of the UK’s self-employed are freelancers, according to an analysis in the report of how payments are received.

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