who in their right mind would be self-employed?

adrian ashton
4 min readFeb 9, 2018

I’ve been self-employed for over 13 years now (although more by accident than deliberate design), and I increasingly hear arguments being made everywhere as to why more of us should set up our own businesses, become self-employed, or start a career as a freelancer.

But in all the hype and excitement, I can’t help but feel that people aren’t being given the ‘full picture’ of what they might be trading off in not pursuing more traditional employment options, and as a result, rushing into something that makes their lives harder and less happy than they might potentially have otherwise been.

Don’t believe me? Well, what about these various published researches that highlight the ‘dark truth’ about self-employment that very few (if any) of its advocates share with us:

less earnings and more poverty -

- as a body of workers, we’re increasingly likely to be earning below the minimum wage, and the trend is that this will be true for majority of us within the next 2 years:

https://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/self-employed-slide-further-into-poverty/

and

https://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/why-low-paid-self-employment-is-everyones-problem/

and

http://businessadvice.co.uk/hr/employment-law/government-urged-to-protect-freelancers-with-self-employed-minimum-wage

- compared to our ‘employed’ counterparts, we’re actually earning less now than we did 20 years ago:

http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/press-releases/typical-earnings-of-the-self-employed-lower-than-20-years-ago/

- and compared to those same employed counterparts, we’re also paying more in tax on the earnings we can make than they do on the wages they’re paid:

https://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/self-employment-whos-dodging-the-tax/

- changes to our benefits system by government, means that for those of us who qualify as being eligible for some type of income support, we’ll now be about £2,000 a year worse off than before…

http://businessadvice.co.uk/hr/payroll/universal-credit-leaving-self-employed-over-2000-a-year-worse-off-than-employees

- all of which means that many of us have very little (if any) cash savings to fall back on in the event of a ‘rainy day’:

http://smallbusiness.co.uk/business-savings-strains-self-employed-2542586/

more sickness and worse (physical) health -

- we’re not entitled to sick pay: if we get sick, we can’t earn or claim anything in the way that our employed counterparts can:

http://businessadvice.co.uk/hr/payroll/self-employed-demand-statutory-sick-pay-ahead-of-any-other-benefit

- as a result, over 80% of us who fall ill will work through it, as we can’t afford to stop earning, placing further risk to our long-term future health:

https://www.moneydonut.co.uk/news/self-employed-risk-health-working-through-illness

more loneliness and worse (mental) health -

- working for yourself means you’re more likely to suffer from loneliness and the anxiety that’s associated with this:

https://www.fastcompany.com/3059317/how-ive-learned-to-thrive-with-the-loneliness-of-freelancing

longer hours and less time with / more stress for our families:

- if the main household earner is self-employed (as was my own experience for 12 years), then not only are their relationships with their family increasingly likely to suffer, but their family will also begin to feel more stressed as well:

http://businessadvice.co.uk/insurance/health/pressures-of-self-employment-creep-into-family-life

- we also work longer hours (typically 13 hours a day), with less time off for holidays:

https://www.sectorsdonut.co.uk/news/forget-balance-self-employment-about-work-life-blur

- and women in particular struggle to be able to maintain a semblance of controlled hours if self-employed, juggling multiple family responsibilities which lead them to have extremely elongated days with little (if any) time for themselves and their own well-being:

https://www.startupdonut.co.uk/node/120747

retirement?

- less than 1 in 5 of us is able to save into a pension (unlike our employed counterparts whose employers make regular monthly contributions into one on their behalf on top of the salary they pay them..):

https://www.ipse.co.uk/our/news-listing/self-employed-pensions-the-ticking-time-bomb.html

So the research shows us that to strike out as an entrepreneur means you’re more likely to be poor/in poverty; suffer long-term ill health; have worse relationships with your family; and never be able to retire…

and you what makes this even worse? Government is aware of all of this from the official statistics it collects and openly publishes, yet somehow doesn’t seem to be able to get around to doing anything about them:

https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/trendsinselfemploymentintheuk/2018-02-07

If I’ve made it sound like self-employment is a bleak landscape that only the wretched and foolish would dare to venture into, I apologise. My interest in collating and presenting these various and multiple researches is, as always in my blogs, a desire to share knowledge in helping people make more informed decisions and being able to spot/avoid hype — it’s not all doom and gloom for everyone. After all, 15% of us do it. And we do it for a variety of reasons: the unavailability of other forms of employment, the need for flexibility around family/caring responsibilities, the desire to use a personal skill or passion that outweighs the apparent cost of maintaining it as a sometimes hobby, and similar.

And in light of our Government’s apparent disinterest in us, we’re also increasingly finding ways to support ourselves:

Facebook groups like Freelance Heroes- https://www.facebook.com/groups/freelanceheroes

Campaigns like MicroBiz Matters

- https://microbizmattersday.rocks/blog/

Pooling of financial support for each other through co-operative initiatives such as ‘Bread Funds

- http://breadfunds.uk/

The current state of self-employment and freelancing may therefore be very precarious, but we can perhaps have hope of a brighter future if we start to take more action in all of our interests by working together, and supporting each other more..?

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