Surge in number of self-employed since 2008

Data released by the Office of National Statistics this week shows that the total number of self-employed has reached an all-time high of 4.2 million, with almost 370,000 extra people working for themselves since the economic downturn started in 2008.

Interestingly, 60% of this increase took place between 2011 and 2012, and 84% of the newly self-employed are aged over 50.

Self-employed now 14% of entire UK workforce

The self-employed, which now represent around 14% of the entire 29.4m UK workforce, tend to be older than the average traditional employee (47 compared to 40), and 70% of them are men.

People who work for themselves also work longer hours (38 compare to 36 for employees), and are far more likely to work ‘very long hours’, as they are solely responsible for providing their own income.

The ONS study also highlighted some significant regional differences. London and the South-East have the highest percentage of self-employed people – 18% in the capital work for themselves, compared to 11% in the North-East.

Given the cost of renting or buying dedicated workspace, it is unsurprising to find out that 58% of self-employed people use their homes to an extent to carry out their work – 38% use their homes as a base, 15% work full-time from home, and 5% work from another building on the same site as their residential property.

Growing trend towards self-employment

The actual statistics are very interesting. The ONS estimates that the total number of self-employed increased by 367,000 between 2008 and 2012. However the increase has taken place steadily since the start of the credit crunch in a rising trend. 219,000 were added in the last year of the study alone.

The total number of employees fell by just over 430,000 during the same time period.

Economists have mixed views on how to interpret the data so far, with some claiming that the economic downturn has forced many people to scrape together extra income by undertaking freelance work, and others seeing the trend more likely to be due to lifestyle choices – particularly for the over 50s.

Further Information

You can download a PDF version of the ONS release, which contains in-depth analysis of the self-employment trends here.

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