The rise of self-employment

What does this mean? Are more people grabbing their career by the scruff of the neck and following the dream of being their own boss? Or is it a sign of desperation from those who cannot find a job as an employee and end up self-employed anyway, or are classing themselves as ‘self-employed’ for purposes of pride when ‘unemployed’ is closer to the mark?

The answer is: It depends on who you ask. The Coalition Government wants to paint a picture (via a self-employed artist, presumably) of a new age of entrepreneurial spirit and endeavour and go-getters running their own business. The TUC points at the comparatively low pay, lack of job security and retirement income for non-employees.

The UK has been described as the self-employment capital of Western Europe, and the attraction is clear. It is a more flexible way of living, allowing a person to devote work time to other parts of life such as their children, family, leisure and friends. Few employees could just decide to take a day off when they feel like it, or devote a morning to study.

But every hour or day away from work costs money. Salaried jobs such as those offered at Jobstoday offer stability, and possibly a work pension. When you’re on your own there’s no employer paying tax, and there’s no sick pay.

The most popular self-employed sectors in 2014 are construction and building (167,000), taxi drivers and chauffeurs (166,000), and carpenters and joiners (144,000). None of these should be surprising, particularly as the building trade suffered a severe downturn in the midst of the economic nightmare.

And in reality as many as half of these may not actually be self-employed; Ucatt (Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians) believes that employers are deliberately avoiding sick and holiday pay through misuse of the Construction Industry Scheme to create ‘false self-employment’.

Taxi drivers do not need any particular qualifications, other than a requirement to take a geographical test towards their operator’s licence. Photography is another sector where self-employment/freelancing is rapidly growing, particularly as newspapers and magazines continue to lay off staff.

Some self-employed people enjoy a life of freedom that the salaried workforce can only dream of. Many of the most famous businessmen, TV personalities and public figures have never had a boss in their life, but did have a drive and an ability to create an individual path for their lives.

In reality many, many more do not ‘make it’ to the same degree, and instead face a life of working harder, for longer. The average age of a self-employed person is 47, and the number of self-employed people aged 65 or older has jumped by nearly 200,000 in the past five years.

Senior labour market statistician Nick Palmer said in this piece in the Telegraph: “The recent growth in self employment… is affected in the long term by the ageing workforce; the slightly older age profile of the self employed probably contributed to the increase. But with regards to the idea of the stop-gap, people doing self employment as a last resort – there doesn’t seem to be much evidence.”

A move towards working from home, or at least away from a central office, is not a new idea. Telecommunications advancement means that many companies can contact people around the world instantly, while reducing their own overheads. But self-employment as a way of living has its ups and downs; those who want more control of their life will wake up in the morning knowing they have no boss to please, but also knowing that worldwide, national and even local economic conditions could dictate the pattern of their life. Self-employment demands bravery and belief, and for those forced into it through circumstance it can be an exhilarating but exhausting time. 

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