We need to stop talking about self-employment as a monocultural phenomenon

Self-employment has grown considerably in the UK over the past 15 years, now totalling around 4.8 million workers, or 15 per cent of the workforce. There is a debate about the extent to which this growth in self-employment is a positive development: some believe that it is a positive feature of an entrepreneurial and flexible economy, while others fear that it is increasing levels of precariousness. This is a difficult issue to address as there is great heterogeneity among the self-employed workforce. In order to shed light on this, IES undertook research for the Centre for Research on Self-Employment (CRSE) to divide the self-employed workforce into segments. The policy debate on self-employment has often been carried out on the assumption that there is some homogeneity among the self-employed workforce. However, this is far from the case, and it could be argued that diversity is increasing due to the growth of the so-called gig economy. In order to help clarify the debate, IES undertook research for the CRSE that aimed to achieve greater clarity in terms of the size and nature of the different segments of the self-employed workforce. The aim is that if the sector is better segmented, this will help policymakers to avoid taking a broad-brush approach to the treatment of self-employed workers.

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