February 08, 2013 - Rachel Miller

Dramatic rise in number of self-employed workers

The number of workers who are self-employed has risen by 367,000 since the start of the downturn in 2008, according to a new report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

And 60% of this rise has happened since 2011, it says. By contrast, the number of employees has fallen by 434,000 between 2008 and 2012.

The increase in self-employment took place across all parts of the UK, with the exception of Northern Ireland, where the number of self-employed workers decreased.

The ONS also reports that in the same period, there was an increase of 431,000 in the number of self-employed people who worked on their own or with a partner, but a drop of 66,000 in the number of self-employed workers who had employees working for them.

The ONS report also reveals that self-employed people work longer hours than employees — on average 38 hours a week compared with 36 for employees. Self-employed workers tend to be older than employees and are more likely to be male — in 2012, the average age of the 4.2 million self-employed was 47 and 70% of them were men.

The four most common occupations for self-employment are taxi drivers, carpenters and joiners, “other” construction trades and farmers. The ONS has produced a video presentation about the statistics that can be viewed on YouTube.

However, there are concerns that these figures indicate that the UK economy is in worse shape than employment figures have suggested.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Self-employment is normally a very small part of the workforce so the fact that it’s been outstripping employee job growth shows that the UK labour market is far weaker than headlines suggest. There may be perfectly good reasons for being self-employed but it would be naive to think that all these workers are really budding entrepreneurs.”