Self-employment is booming – but workers are earning less than they did 20 years ago

One in seven workers are now self employed


The Tories love to remind us that unemployment is falling in the UK and workforce participation rising. They rarely mention that employment growth is built on the back of a growing cohort of low-paid, precarious self-employed workers.

New analysis published by the Resolution Foundation shows that self-employed workers typically earn less today than they did twenty years ago. Since 2001-2, the number of self-employed workers in the UK has increased by 45 per cent — bringing the total to nearly five million — but in the same period weekly earnings have fallen by £60.


This is attributable, in part, to the rise of the gig economy, including companies like Uber and Deliveroo, which have lately been mired in controversy over the treatment of their workers.

Adam Corlett, Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, has called on the government to seek out policy solutions to the problem, commenting:

“Modern self-employment is less likely to involve very long working weeks, and today’s workers are far less likely to be business owners with staff of their own. And while returns may have increased recently, many workers are still feeling the painful effects of the financial crisis.

With so many self-employed workers earning so little, it is right that the government investigate how public policy should catch up to meet the needs of these workers.

For many people, self-employment brings a freedom that no employer can provide. But the growth of low pay and short hours, along with a summer of protest about conditions, means that its no surprise some workers in the ‘gig economy’ feel that self-employment is just a positive spin on precarious work.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady echoed these concerns. Commenting on today’s report she said:

“Britain’s new generation of self-employed workers are not all the budding entrepreneurs ministers like to talk about. While some choose self-employment, many are forced into it because there is no alternative work.

Self-employment today too often means low pay and fewer rights at work. We need more decent jobs that people can live on. Not a return to the sort of working practices we saw in Victorian times.”

The Resolution Foundation also finds that across the economy productivity is not increasing in line with employment, and pay growth is sluggish.

See also: We’re going backwards: ’80s kids are half as wealthy as those born in the ’70s

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