After several years of rises, the latest labour market statistics show that the number of self-employed people in the UK has fallen by 22,000 in the past year.
Despite this small drop, the size of the self-employed population remains broadly stable at around 4.8 million, representing almost 15% of the UK workforce.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also show that overall employment is now at 75%, the joint highest level since comparable records began. Unemployment is down by 127,000 since the same time last year, putting the unemployment rate at 4.3%.
Commenting on the data, Andy Chamberlain, deputy director of policy at the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), said: "There's no doubt the extraordinary rise in self-employment over the past few years - with freelancers, for example, up 46% since 2008 - is helping to keep unemployment at record lows. The overall labour market picture … is very positive. And the fact that the headline self-employment rate has remained stable at approximately 4.8 million compared to the same time last year, just confirms that the growth of this sector is here to stay."
Studies by IPSE have found that self-employment is a popular choice for many UK workers. Chamberlain said: "Our research shows that people are overwhelmingly choosing to work for themselves because they prefer it. They like to be in control of their work and their hours. Self-employment isn't right for everybody, but it's a lifeline for a lot of people: a way to fit their work around other aspects of their lives. For example, 750,000 disabled people are self-employed, and this population is growing even faster than the overall self-employed."
IPSE is lobbying the Government to do more to support freelance workers. "Self-employment enables many more people to make an economic contribution to the UK," said Chamberlain. "The Government must therefore support this vital part of the labour market … the way Universal Credit works for self-employed claimants is one area that urgently needs to be reviewed."