23/07/2015

By Peter Lemon, director and founder of the Academy of Fitness Professionals


“Being your own boss” is an idea that is more attractive to Brits than ever before.

From having internationally low levels of self employment, Britain has not only caught up with the EU average but actually exceeded it. The speed of Britain’s self employment growth has even lead the IPPR to dub Britain the “self employment capital” of western Europe. This dramatic change to our working landscape has led the government to announce that it plans to review the sector, a review which is arguably overdue.

What are the advantages of self employment?

The dream of being your own boss and choosing your own working hours has really started to take hold in Britain, with one in seven now self employed. Self employment allows some individuals, myself included, to follow their dreams and start a business that they are really passionate about. Some, particularly those with childcare to think about, are drawn to self employment because of the flexibility it provides.

What do the self employed look like?

While the phrase ‘self employed’ may conjure entrepreneurial images, the reality is a little different. Most people that classify as self employed are tradespeople or individuals with a particular skill, with construction, taxi driving and the fitness industry being popular options. The rise in employment figures since the financial crisis has predominantly been a result of the self employment sector.

According to statistics from the ONS, the self employed are more likely to work much longer hours (+45) or much shorter hours (-8) than typical employees. Though men still make up the lion’s share of the self employed, women are going into self employment at a much faster rate than men. The recent budget contained some good news for the self employed too, including the proposed scrapping of national insurance contributions.

Is self employment a good thing for the economy?

Critics argue that self employment isn’t always a sign of economic strength. Most telling, perhaps, is the fact that the country with the highest rate of self employment in the EU is Greece, at 32%. Britain’s self employment growth is not due to more people becoming self employed, but rather less people leaving self employment. Some people are remaining self employed due to a scarcity of viable alternative employment options, and others are staying in self employment past the retirement age.

Whether forced into it for economic reasons or not, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that, on average, the self employed are happier, more productive, work longer hours, and are more useful to the economy than employees. Perhaps redressing small but salient inequalities, such as self employed women only being eligible for maternity allowance rather than the typically more generous statutory maternity pay, would be a good way to repay the self employed for their role in the country’s economic recovery.