Britain’s growing numbers of self employed – and it’s usually their own choice

7 minutes Mark Halstead

There can be few of us who have not at some stage dreamt of being our own boss – no direct orders from management, no tedious meetings, the chance to choose the times of day when you work and the power to refuse work when you wish.

According to the Sunday Times newspaper in January 2015, 4.5 million people in the UK do exactly that – one in seven of the UK workforce is now self-employed. This is around twice the proportion you would find in the United States, and is higher than for any other country, bar Italy, in the G7 group of the world’s wealthiest nations.

The number of self-employed in the UK has also risen by 18% since 2007. Back in February 2014, the Chartered Institute of Personnel Directors said three quarters of the rise in employment at that time was due to people becoming self-employed.

Some may suggest that the rise in the numbers of self-employed is down to people being unable to obtain full-time employment. But the numbers saying they are self-employed simply because they cannot obtain a contracted full-time position has been falling steadily for the last two years.

Research in 2014 by the Resolution Foundation think tank discovered that only a quarter of self-employed people felt they had no choice other than to set up on their own, so it seems that for many people who work for themselves, it is because they like it that way.

The Sunday Times heard from IT consultant Christian Kemp, who left his job with business consulting giant Deloitte in order to practise his profession on a self-employed basis. Mr Kemp has no doubt he made the right decision, saying: “Financially I’m better off, although there’s always going to be some anxiety about the insecurity of it, and you don’t get things like paid holidays and sick pay, and you have to pay for your own training. But I’m 100% happier.” 

For others, self employment is also a way of maintaining income, and staying busy, once they have retired from their previous profession. The traditional retirement, where people go from working full time to never working again at a stroke, is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

The Government might like to believe that the rise in the numbers of self-employed reflects a growing entrepreneurial spirit in Britain. Yet many self-employed people may actually be ‘odd job’ type freelancers, in fields such as IT consultancy, copywriting or design. 83% of the UK’s self-employed work completely alone, and do not employ anyone else, meaning that they do little to boost the jobs market and the wider economy. However, in August 2014, the IPPR think tank said 2,000 people were ceasing to claim benefits each month as they decided to set up on their own, which should have a positive effect on the Government’s welfare bill.

The downsides to being self-employed however include: possible difficulties in getting clients, a lack of security of income, the need to maintain your own financial records and difficulties in finding the time to take a holiday.

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richard west Mark Halstead Partner

Mark's experience is big data analytics, financial services and building businesses provides Red Flag Alert with strategic direction.