In its latest Work Audit report, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) questions whether the current 4.14 million record level of self-employment in the UK heralds a resurgent enterprise culture and concludes that the bulk of those at present taking the self-employed route to work are part-time ‘odd jobbers’ desperate to avoid unemployment.

The report, The rise in self-employment, based on official statistics, finds:

• By the spring of 2010 self-employment was higher than at the start of the recession in 2008 and by the autumn of 2011 had reached a record level of 4.14 million (14.2 per cent of total employment). At the latter date, the level of self-employment was 0.3 million (+8 per cent) higher than in spring 2008, compared with a corresponding fall of 0.7 million (-3 per cent) in the number of employees in work.

• The additional self-employed since 2008 are unlike self-employed people as a whole in terms of gender, hours of work, occupation and sector of employment.

• Although well over two thirds of self-employed people are men, women account for more than half (184,000, or 60 per cent) of the net rise in self-employment since the start of the recession.

• Whereas over two-thirds of self-employed people work more than 30 hours per week, almost 9 in 10 (88.8%) of the additional self-employed people since the start of the recession work less than 30 hours per week

• Almost a quarter of the UK’s self-employed people work in construction but the number of self-employed construction workers is currently lower than in 2008. By contrast, sectors with relatively small shares of self-employment – notably education, information and communications, financial and insurance services and public administration, defence and social security – are among those which have seen the biggest proportional increases in self-employment in recent years.

• Skilled trades-people – typified by ‘white van man’ – have the single largest share of self-employment (almost 30%) but account for less than 1 per cent of the net rise in self-employment since the start of the recession. People performing elementary (i.e. unskilled) occupations account for more than 20 per cent of the net increase, with those in administrative and secretarial and personal services occupations also registering large proportional increases.

Dr John Philpott, Chief Economic Adviser at the CIPD, comments:

“The typical self-employed person in Britain today remains a skilled tradesman, manager or professional working long hours on the job, but since the start of the recession the ranks of the self-employed have been swelled by people from a much wider array of backgrounds and occupations, including many ‘handy-men’ without skills, picking-up whatever bits and pieces of work are available. It’s good that these self-employed ‘odd jobbers’ are helping to keep the lid on unemployment in a very weak labour market but their emergence hardly suggests a surge in genuine entrepreneurial zeal. While some of these newly self-employed may make a long-term commitment to being their own boss, or at least gain the necessary experience to do so, it’s likely that most would take a job with an employer if only they could find one.”