Britons are relishing the opportunity to work and be financially independent. The latest ONS statistics show that unemployment in the UK has fallen to its lowest rate since 1975, while employment levels have risen to a record high, now at more than 31 million. This growth has been propelled by a leap in self-employment. The number of small businesses in the UK has been rising since the recession hit in 2008, as people struggling to find work looked for an alternative. However, it is in more recent years that we have seen this trend really take off; the number of self-employed people in the UK is now rising faster than the number of employed workers, with an impressive increase of more than four million – from 148,000 to 4.8 million – over the past year. This is proof that confidence in the labour market is soaring to new heights.
Phillip Hammond’s announcement to scrap the proposed rise in national insurance for the self-employed is set to further support this trend. For those looking to start their own business, now is the time seize the moment. Small businesses are undoubtedly the lifeblood of the UK economy and with unemployment at its lowest level in over 40 years and the Government committing to nurturing entrepreneurs, the opportunity to build a sustainable business with a solid customer base has never been better.
The “gig economy” – a term now used to describe short-term contracts or freelance work – has also been cited as a driving force behind self-employment. Last year, it was reported that London’s gig economy had grown by more than 70 per cent since 2010, with jobs ranging from couriers and food delivery, to photographers and copywriters – as people enjoyed the flexibility and mobility of this kind of work.
But what next? The challenge now is to grow the economy and ensure that wages rise. Despite the decline in unemployment, wage growth continues to slow, while inflation continues its steep and steady incline towards 2 per cent. Once growth in real earnings is achieved, people will not only have jobs, but will also have the ability to make ends meet and establish a better standard of living. Economists’ predictions are encouraging; many believe that falling unemployment will result in employers increasing salaries in order to attract, and even retain, employees.
It is also crucial that people have the right jobs and are employed at the correct level. Underemployment – a situation where people are either working fewer hours than they wish, or in a job where they are not utilising their skills – continues to stifle the UK labour force. As the UK economy grows, we must ensure that the underemployed move into full-time positions, in an industry and position suited to their abilities, in order to free up part-time roles for those who are currently struggling to get a foot on the career ladder.
Supporting yourself with dignity is the cornerstone of leading a fulfilling life, and those who work for themselves have become a powerful force for the UK economy. It is extremely encouraging to see a healthy economy and an increasing improvement in the quality of jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, as more people take the first step towards making a living.
Shraga Zaltzman is the CEO at Work Avenue, the organisation supporting people into employment and self-employment.