Most new jobs created since the recession have been freelance—and Britain is leading the trendby Hamish McRae / May 22, 2014 / Leave a comment
Self employment: “whatever your attitude you have to acknowledge that this is a seismic shift in the way we live now.”
We are so attached to the idea of getting and having a job that it is hard for us to grasp the scale and speed with which labour markets are changing. It is possible, indeed probable, that people entering the workforce today in the world’s developed economies will spend half or more of their working lives not in steady jobs but being self-employed.
This is a social and economic transformation as significant as the expansion of tertiary education in the 1960s and, more recently, the shift to flexible retirement ages. The trend is discernible in several advanced economies, including the United States (where one should include “proprietors” in the figures, because otherwise the numbers look very low). But things are changing fastest in the UK. Not only do we have the highest proportion of self-employed people in the workforce since the Second World War—15 per cent, slightly higher than the US and considerably higher than Germany or France—it is also probable that during the life of the next parliament there will be more self-employed people than government employees.
The growth of self-employment in the UK since the recession has been remarkable. The government celebrates, with some justification, the fact that there are more people working in the UK than ever before. But 83 per cent of the new employment created since 2007 has been in people working for themselves. About half of that gain has been in people working part-time, with women accounting for a larger proportion of the gain than in previous periods. Historically, they have accounted for about 30 per cent of the self-employed, but they account for 60 per cent of the increase in self-employment since 2007.
Many of those who have become self-employed regard themselves as under-employed, because they are working for fewer hours than they would like. But the increase in self-employment is not simply an effect of the recession—levels of self-employment were rising beforehand, too. That said, the reasons for the shift to self-employment differ depending on the economic climate. In bad times, people who have been made redundant pick up whatever work they can get, whereas in good times they have the confidence to set up on their own. But the…