UK's self-employed workforce shrank between 2019 and 2021 - but proves popular option for over 50s

The self-employed workforce fell from a peak of nearly five million people in July to September 2019 to 4.3 million in the same period of 2021, according to a new study.

Rest Less, an online community and advocate for people in their 50s, 60s and beyond, has revealed how it analysed a bespoke dataset from the Office for National Statistics that compared levels of self-employment in the UK between July and September in the years between 2011 and 2021.

It found that the number of self-employed people reached a high of 4.95 million people in 2019, falling to 4.27 million in July to September 2021 – a drop of 682,000 or 14 per cent – reaching a low for any such period since 2013.

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The number of self-employed people fell to 4.27 million in July to September 2021, down by 14 per cent from the same period in 2019. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

Rest Less also flagged changes to legislation that resulted in many contractors who previously classed themselves as self-employed moving onto company payrolls.

The number of self-employed workers fell across all age categories in the past two years apart from those in their 70s and 80s, which increased by 7 per cent and 88 per cent respectively.

It has also been revealed that despite the drop in the number of self-employed workers in their 50s and 60s, the proportion among those aged 50 and above increased in the past two years from 45 per cent to 47 per cent. There are more self-employed people in the 50-59 age group than in any other, and this is the only demographic where the number of such workers exceeds 1 million.

Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, said working for yourself “remains an attractive option” for many workers in their 50s, 60s and beyond. He added: “From our community we see three main drivers behind the popularity of self-employment amongst experienced workers.

"The first is around the surge in mid-life entrepreneurship and armed with significant business and life experience, the opportunity to head out on their own and build something that excites them is a real draw.

"Some are attracted by the flexibility that self-employment can offer, as a way of balancing work and home ambitions and restoring a sense of work-life balance after decades of hard work. For others, however, it can feel like the only option to earn a living for anyone feeling shut out of the workforce due to age discrimination.”

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