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Self-employment is the "new normal"

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows, once again, that the number of self-employed people in the UK has gone up.

Statistics reveal that 4.7 million people are now working for themselves in the UK according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This equates to 14.9% of all employment.

The growth in freelance numbers, which stood at 3.8 million in 2008, has been driven mainly by the 88% boom in those taking up part-time self-employment between 2001 and 2015; however, full-time self-employment has also risen by 25% in that time.

According to the new ONS report, Trends in Self-Employment in the UK 2001-2015, those that are self-employed are generally happy with their employment status and those moving from employment to self-employment "tend to have somewhat higher pre-transition hourly earnings than workers moving to new employee positions: trends which are consistent with making a positive choice, rather than being forced to be self-employed."

The ONS report concludes that the rise in self-employment has not been caused by the 2008 downturn but has its roots in employment trends that go back to the beginning of the 21st century.

The report says: "While this strong performance is among the defining characteristics of the UK's economic recovery, the recent rise in self-employment is the extension of a trend started in the early 2000s … 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 and among the part-timers, many respondents report that they would prefer not to work full-time."

The report also reveals that, increasingly, older people are choosing to enter part-time self-employment rather than retire; and those that are already self-employed are part of an aging group in the UK's labour force. It says: "As groups, both the part-time and full-time self-employed have aged considerably over the last ten years and in excess of that indicated by simple demographics."

Emma Jones, founder of small business support group Enterprise Nation, describes this trend as "unsurprising". Older people, she said, "are capitalising on a wealth of knowledge and experience they have acquired over their lifetime and still have a lot more to give. These people are not making this choice out of necessity through a lack of jobs, they are responding to new opportunities that technology brings and this will only increase."

Last week, the Cabinet Office announced the appointment of Emma Jones as small business crown representative. Working one day a week, her main focus will be procurement and she will be working with smaller businesses across the UK to help them bid for, and win, government contracts.

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