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The number of self-employed workers has risen by 367,000 in the last four years, mostly since 2011, with women accounting for 80% of the rise between 2008 and 2011, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The statistics show five in every six self-employed workers were aged 50 and over. The ONS divides the four-year period into two distinct phases: 2008-2011 and 2011-2012.
Between 2008 and 2011 most of the increase in self-employment was among:
– People aged 65 and over
– People working less than 30 hours per week.
Between 2011 and 2012 the increase in self-employment was concentrated in:
– People aged 50 to 64
– Men (accounting for 64% of the increase)
– People working 30 hours or more per week who accounted for over half of the rise.
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The increase in the number of self-employed workers was spread over a number of occupations and industries. Between 2011 and 2012 the most common increases were in specialised construction activities and services to buildings and landscape which includes, for example, landscape gardeners.
The number of self-employed workers increased in all regions except Northern Ireland where the number decreased.
For the UK, while there has been an increase in the number of people who are self-employed there has been a reduction in the number of employees who work for the self-employed. Between 2008 and 2012 there were 66,000 fewer people who were self-employed and had employees working for them, with a 431,000 increase in people who were self-employed and worked solely on their own or with a partner but specify they have no employees.
Between 2008 and 2012, the percentage of self-employed workers who were underemployed, i.e. those who wanted to work more hours, increased from 6.4% to 10.8%. Therefore, although still a minority, some self-employed people were working fewer hours than they would have liked possibly due to a lack of demand. While in the past the underemployment rate for the self-employed tended to be below the rate for employees, during the economic downturn in 2008 the underemployment rate for the self-employed exceeded that of employees.
In April to June 2012, there were an estimated 4.2 million people in the UK who were self-employed in their main job. This represented 14% of the 29.4 million people in employment. Compared with employees – which are those who work for someone else – self-employed people tended to be older with a higher concentration of men.
In addition to these 4.2 million workers who were self-employed in their main job, in April to June 2012 there were a further 304,000 people who were not self-employed in their main job but had a second job in which they were self-employed.
The average working week for a self-employed person was 38 hours, two hours more than the average for employees. Self-employed people were also more likely than employees to work very long hours with 35% working 45 hours or more per week compared with 22% of employees. Also, 13% of self-employed people worked 60 hours or more per week compared with 3% of employees. Focusing on those who worked 60 hours or more, the top self-employed occupation was a farmer, indicating that long hours may reflect the nature of some self-employed jobs, says the ONS.
Self-employment highest in London
London had the highest percentage of self-employed workers with 18% of those in employment being self-employed and the North East had the lowest with 11% of those in employment being self-employed.
There has been very little change in the top self-employed occupations over the last 20 years, says the ONS, and in 2012 the four most common occupations were taxi/cab drivers and chauffeurs, ‘other’ construction trades, carpenters/joiners and farmers.
The home is a place of work for some self-employed workers with 58% relying on their home to carry out some or all of their working duties in 2012. Some 15% worked from their own home, 5% worked on the same grounds or building as their home and 38% used their home as a base.