Here to stay: Women and self-employment

Mar 1, 2016 | Analysis, Briefing Papers

Self-employment in the UK is at the highest point since records began 40 years ago, with the number of self-employed increasing by 650,000 since 2008 to reach 4.5 million.

Self-employed women are the majority of the newly self-employed. Since the 2008 downturn 58% of the newly self-employed have been female.

In this briefing paper, the Women’s Budget Group considers key trends and challenges associated with the rise in female self-employment and sets out a series of policy recommendations to address these.

Key trends and challenges covered in the Briefing include that:

  • While for many women self-employment is a positive option allowing them to pursue fulfilling and flexible work, for a growing proportion self-employment does not appear to be a “choice” but a necessity driven by factors such as public sector job losses, the uprating of the female retirement age, or a need to accommodate caring responsibilities.
  • The self-employed are working longer hours and earning less.
  • The gender pay gap for the self-employed stands at 41% and, as such, self-employment may be a route into low pay for some women
  • Productivity of the self-employed has declined by 32% since 2008
  • Low earnings and productivity have implications for the economy as a whole, with the State foregoing considerable tax revenue as a result of declining earning.
  • Gender-blind policy setting has led to an enterprise support infrastructure and incentives that are primarily taken up by men. 


    The Briefing Paper proposes a comprehensive set of measures to tackle these challenges, including:

    • A woman-friendly enterprise support infrastructure
    • Equalised parental benefits for the self-employed
    • Strengthened provisions for flexible working to provide more opportunities for those women who would like to remain employees and combine this with caring responsibilities
    • Review of Universal Credit to eliminate barriers to self-employment
    • Gender disaggregated information on uptake of business support measures to enable effectiveness to be assessed
    • Inclusion of the self-employed in official earnings data through an ‘All worker’ category

Click here  WBG (2016), Here to Stay: Women’s self-employment in a (post) austerity era, Women’s Budget Group, London