Self-employment is now at its highest ever - at 4.6 million in February 2016. It has been increasing since the year 2000 and there is a clear trend towards this form of employment - be it those in tech start-ups, freelancers, farmers, construction workers, taxi drivers, hairdressers or artists. Self-employment benefits the UK economy and has been linked to the economic upturn we have experienced in recent years - so could it also help us through the muddy waters of Brexit and should government and businesses alike be looking more at how they can support and benefit from this group?
An independent self employment review in February 2016, by Julie Deane OBE, researched the market and lays out suggestions for the government and private sector to support this growing group. "It is important that with the increased growth in self-employment, and the subsequent benefits that this group brings to the economy, that there are systems in place to support the self-employed in the same way as the employed. Government should consider extending support to the self-employed in areas where there is discrepancy between support for the self-employed and support for employees." The review highlights the importance of technology in helping with the growth in self-employment. And it makes suggestions, such as better education for young people on finance, cash flow, book keeping and taxation, highlights the need for more flexible financial solutions, from mortgages and insurance to pensions and suggests more shared spaces to work in.
The Office of National Statistics says that, "The performance of the labour market and the growth of self-employment have been among the defining characteristics of the UK's recent economic recovery... The data presented here suggest that in general, self-employed workers are broadly content with their labour market status. Relatively few report negative reasons for becoming self-employed, few indicate that they are looking for alternative employment." People are not becoming self-employed because they are forced to by the market, but because they choose to.
An interesting recent article in the Telegraph on the Uber ruling comments that 76% of the drivers there are not happy with the decision that makes them 'workers' and would prefer to keep their self employment status. "Britain's flexible labour rules may be moving in the wrong direction. The government has appointed former Labour adviser Matthew Taylor to review employment regulation, and ministers' comments suggest they look forward to him presenting a suite of new workers' "rights". Let us hope that, instead, he finds a way of revising Britain's labour laws for a digital age..."
I am self-employed as a Part-time Marketing and Product Marketing Director and have been for nearly 4 years now. I agree that people who are self employed are more happy and enjoy the flexibility of their situation. Self employment is not without its downsides in my kind of role - one has to be a jack of all trades and able to fix your computer when it goes down, go out and look for business, sell yourself regularly in meetings with new prospects and have a financial fall-back for the inevitable times that work is quieter. But overall, the positives outweigh the negatives. I get flexibility in the way I work and diversity of companies I work with and at the same time, provide flexibility to businesses. From my perspective at least, I can offer help when there are say product launches and the business' workload increases and they need additional marketing skills, or strategy and support where a full-time person is not required. I can go with the ups and downs of a business, as I don't demand the same rights or contracts etc from the people I work with. They get flexibility and so do we.
Interestingly, the above-mentioned report also states, "Recently the number of self employed women has increased faster than men and since 2009 women have accounted for over half of the overall growth in self-employment." People often think this is due to women wanting to balance work and family life and yet for me, that has never been the case. Something I did read when I left full-time employment in a corporate environment however, is that many women do not like the charged political environment that still exists in many organisations and prefer to work for themselves, on the outside of that. But of course, as mentioned at the beginning, self employment takes all forms of jobs.
Will it be the self employed then, who since they helped the UK through the economic downturn, will help us through the potentially troubled waters of Brexit? In which case it is right for reports such as these to make recommendations about encouraging and supporting this group - since we could make a big impact on the future UK economy.
And should businesses alike, be looking more at how these types of employees could support their businesses, through the ups and downs that may be on the horizon? There has been a rise in managerial people in self employment - like myself. Yet I experience that some companies are flexible and some not, to the idea of part-time people or ad hoc work. We can help companies through ups and downs, as we don't demand the same ties or financial risks that an employee would. But so many businesses are stuck in the notion that they only want full-time employees - and yet the digital era enables more flexibility than that.
If we are going to weather the stormy sees that may well be ahead, we need to set up our businesses to succeed. The self-employed have helped the UK economy until now, so let's help them support us through the uncertain future.
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