According to statistics, the number of self-employed workers in the UK has been consistently on the rise since 2001. Although it may seem like those who work for themselves account for only a small proportion of the workforce, the numbers tell a different story, with around 15 percent of people now acting as their own bosses.
Young people, in particular, are increasingly keen to work for themselves, with the tally of self-employed individuals between 16 and 24 having almost doubled in the past 18 years.
So, why exactly is it that more and more of us are choosing to take the leap and go it alone?
A desire for flexible working hours and greater control
The Office for National Statistics recently published some revealing figures, detailing how the number of self-employed workers in the UK has risen from 3.3 million in 2001 to 4.8 million in 2017 – an admittedly huge leap.
This shows how self-employment has increased rapidly in the space of less than two decades, leaving many to question what it is that’s driving the pattern.
The largest number of self-employed workers are aged between 45 and 54, but rapid increases in the number of individuals working for themselves have also been seen amongst both younger and older demographics, suggesting that this trend has been catalysed by external factors affecting us all.
Indeed, much of this growth came in the wake of the recession, when jobs were more difficult to come by. Many posit that some of these workers, at least initially, had no choice but to work for themselves, as unemployment was their only other alternative.
The rise in self-employment has certainly helped to boost job growth overall, with the unemployment rate in the UK currently at its lowest level since 1975.
Think tanks like the Resolution Foundation also suggest that a desire for flexible working may have had a part to play, particularly for those looking to circumvent the ‘long hours working culture’ that is so prevalent amongst UK businesses.
An overhaul in employment rights imminent
The ever-growing number of self-employed workers has forced the issue of protection for such individuals into the spotlight in recent months, with many claiming the current framework is not adequate.
Whilst there are many boons to working for oneself, in terms of the freedom and flexibility it offers, there are also some major downsides, including a dearth of holiday or sick pay, and significantly lower average earnings, especially for women.
In fact, very few protections exist in general. Self-employed workers are expected to take full responsibility for the successes and failures of their enterprise and the scope of their earnings. Their responsibilities extend to, for example, taking out appropriate cover, no matter how niche, with insurance providers having to step into the breach the government leaves open.
This means, for instance, that handyman liability insurance, which protects the long-term future of business operations in this industry, is left to offer essential and much-needed protection to those working within the sphere on a self-employed basis.
This has led to government proposals to thoroughly overhaul employment rights, though it is not yet clear how far such changes might go in providing blanket protection, compared to protection which is focused only on certain groups, such as those working in the gig economy.
Tell us, with all of this in mind, would you ever consider going solo, or is the certainty of standard employment better suited to your long-term goals?