A significant number of people in the UK have become their own boss since the start of the economic downturn in 2008, figures showed today.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that the number of people who are self-employed in their main job rose by 367,000 between 2008 and 2012, while the number of people working as employees fell by 434,000. Most if the increase happened between 2011 and 2012, when there was a 219,000 rise in the number of self-employed workers.
Overall, there were an estimated 4.2 million people in the UK who were self-employed in their main job in April to June 2012. This represents around one in seven, or 14%, of the 29.4 million people who were in work in the second quarter of last year.
The number of people working for themselves is even higher if we take into account those who have a secondary source of income from self-employment. In addition to the 4.2 million people who were self-employed in their main job last year, there were a further 304,000 people who were not self-employed in their main job but had a second job in which they were self-employed.
Broadly speaking, self-employed people are more likely to be male (last year 70% were men, whereas 51% of employees were male) and they tend to be older. The average age of all those self-employed last year was 47, compared with an average age of 40 for employees.
According to the statistics agency, 84% of those becoming self-employed between 2008 and 2012 were aged 50 or over.
Those working for themselves put in more hours, on average working 38 hours per week compared with 36 for employees. They are also more likely to work very long hours, with 35% working 45 hours or more per week against 22% of employees. More than one in eight people (13%) who are self-employed work 60 hours or more per week compared with just 3% of employees.
The ONS noted that there has been very little change in the top self-employed occupations over the last 20 years and in 2012 the four most common jobs were taxi drivers and chauffeurs, construction tradespeople, carpenters/joiners and farmers. Between 2011 and 2012 the most common increases in self-employment were in specialised construction activities and services to buildings and landscape.
More than half (58%) of those who work for themselves use their own home for work purposes to some extent, either working there (15%), using it as a base (38%) or working on the same grounds or in the same building as their home (5%).