Going it alone: UK has record number of self-employed workers
- Record-high 4.8 million self-employed workers registered in the UK
- One in seven workers in the UK are now self-employed
- Sole traders say having full control over working hours and holiday is best benefit of being self-employed
- Thirty-two per cent of sole traders believe advances in technology have made their jobs easier
The UK has more self-employed workers than ever before, according to new analysis1 by Direct Line for Business. One in seven workers (15 per cent) in the UK are now self-employed. This is a significant increase over the past decade, with nearly one million more self-employed workers than there were in 2008.
The second quarter of 2017 saw 23,000 more self-employed workers registered in the UK, taking the total number to 4,814,465. This surpasses the previous record number posted in Q4 2016, when there were 4,802,384 single operator businesses across the country.
Men still account for the majority of the UK's self-employed, accounting for over two thirds (67 per cent) of these workers. However, over the past five years the number of women taking the step to become their own boss has soared, with 300,000 more female self-employed workers since Q2 2013, an increase of 24 per cent.
On an industry level, construction is the sector with the highest number of self-employed, with 973,000 workers accounting for a fifth (20 per cent) of all sole traders and 42 per cent of the total construction industry. This is followed by professional services (577,000 sole traders) and wholesale, retail, and repair of motor vehicles (407,000), with sole traders in these three industries accounting for 40 per cent of all self-employed workers in the UK.
Carly Menken, Head of Trading at Direct Line for Business, said: "Developments in technology coupled with the convenience of the internet mean that starting a business has never been more straightforward and it's especially encouraging to see more women taking advantage of these advancements and opting to start their own business. Working alone can be extremely appealing; setting out your own work day and being able to enjoy the profits of your labours. However, it is often a daunting experience when you first start out and can be confusing to know what insurance is right for you."
"Insurance is necessary for businesses of all sizes so it's important that business owners spend time researching and educating themselves so they can feel confident they are choosing the right cover to safeguard their business."
Table one: Leading industries for sole traders
|Industry||Number of sole traders||Percentage of total self-employed workforce||Percentage of all employees in industry|
|Professional, scientific & technical activities||577,000||12%||25%|
|Wholesale, retail & repair of motor vehicles||407,000||8%||10%|
|Administrative & support services||370,000||8%||24%|
|Human health & social work activities||323,000||7%||8%|
|Transport & storage||307,000||6%||20%|
|Information & communication||254,000||5%||19%|
|Agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, energy & water||223,000||5%||25%|
|All other industries||927,000||19%||13%|
Source: Direct Line for Business 2018
Research2 conducted by Direct Line for Business reveals thirty-two per cent of sole traders believe developments in technology have made it easier for people to go it alone. Working project-to-project is becoming more common in the business world. A quarter (27 per cent) of those self-employed believe there are more opportunities for freelancers and contractors to capitalise on, however, 22 per cent think there is now more competition for projects than before, as more people are setting up alone.
Almost half (45 per cent) of sole traders listed having full control over working hours and holidays as the primary benefit, while a fifth (20 per cent) think being the sole recipient of all profits is the best thing about working alone.
Table two: Primary benefit of operating as a sole trader
|What is the best thing about operating as a sole trader?||Ranked first||Ranked second||Ranked third|
|Having full control over working hours and holidays||45%||17%||17%|
|Being the sole recipient of all profits||20%||22%||17%|
|Not having to manage employees||12%||27%||20%|
|Lower overhead costs||12%||16%||23%|
|Not having lengthy discussions as I am the sole decision maker||12%||14%||19%|
|Not having to disclose company information/data||0%||4%||4%|
Source: Direct Line for Business 2018
Unsurprisingly, half of those working alone (51 per cent) stated unsteady income as the primary drawback, while a tenth find financial liabilities (12 per cent) and not having enough time for new business (10 per cent) as the biggest disadvantages of working alone. Other concerns include not having anyone to discuss ideas or opportunities with (nine per cent), not having enough support to carry out work (six per cent) and uncertainty over the type of insurance required (three per cent).
Notes to editors
1 Direct Line for Business analysis of ONS employment figures for Q2 2016 (EMP14: All self-employed by industry sector: People (not seasonally adjusted), published 16th August 2017
2 Consumer omnibus research completed amongst 500 SME decision makers from 22-29 September 2017, 139 were sole traders.
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