Making self-employment work for disabled people

Last week, IPSE released a report which found that over 50,000 disabled self-employed workers in the UK have missed out on government support. IPSE’s senior researcher, Inna Yordanova, explains what the report found and how IPSE will use these findings.

The number of disabled self-employed people in the UK is rising, with one in eight (16%) of disabled people who are currently in employment are working in a self-employed capacity, research by IPSE has found. This number reached 662,000 in 2019, up eight per cent since 2018 and 41 per cent since 2013, in comparison with a four per cent increase in the number of overall solo self-employed people in the UK since 2018.

This growth, while positive, means that many vulnerable newly self-employed people are left without government support during the Coronavirus crisis. In fact, our research estimates that at least 50,000 disabled people who became self-employed in 2019 are missing out on government support during Coronavirus.

occupations of disabled self-employed


To better understand this growing sector of the UK’s self-employed population, IPSE teamed up with the trade union Community in 2018 and produced an evidence-based report exploring how government, industry and support organisations can make self-employment work for disabled people.

IPSE continued to conduct research on the topic throughout 2019, the key findings of which are presented below.

What do we know about the disabled self-employed?

The gender breakdown for the UK’s disabled self-employed is uneven, with 60 per cent men and 40 per cent women. The number of disabled women in self-employment, however, has grown at much faster rates than men with increases of 12 per cent since 2018 and 66 per cent since 2013.

Like the overall self-employed population, disabled self-employed people tend to be in the higher age brackets. In fact, the average age of disabled self-employed people is 51 years, which is higher than the average age of disabled employees (44 years) and the overall self-employed population (47 years).

Ages of disabled self-employed

As a result, a growing proportion of disabled self-employed people are soon to be approaching retirement. This is concerning as survey data revealed that only a quarter (24%) of the disabled self-employed are currently saving into a private or personal pension compared to a third (33%) of the overall self-employed population*.

In terms of skill level, many disabled self-employed people work in highly skilled jobs. Almost half (44%) work in the three most highly skilled occupational categories which includes jobs such as engineering and IT professionals, health and social care professionals, marketing professionals and many others.

Disabled people also seem to be in self-employment for the long run with nearly half (47%) being self-employed for ten years or more.

Disability report: time in self-employment infographic



Motivations and experiences in self-employment

People who have long-term disabilities enter self-employment for overwhelmingly positive reasons, including greater control of hours (52%) and control over their work (51%), as well as a better work-life balance (47%), our survey revealed.

For some, self-employment also seems to present a positive alternative to previous negative experiences in employment. For instance, a greater proportion of disabled than non-disabled self-employed people say they entered self-employment because they experienced discrimination in their previous job (14% vs 8%) or had no opportunities for career progression in their previous job (21% vs 14%).

Almost three in four (73%) disabled self-employed people also report being happy with this way of work.

Self-employment, however, doesn’t come without its challenges and that’s no different for people with disabilities.

The research revealed that disabled self-employed people are more likely to command a lower day rate (£152) in comparison with those who do not report a disability (£172). In fact, their day rates are on average 12 per cent lower than self-employed people with no disability.

They are also more likely to say that they find looking for work in self-employment challenging (21% compared to 16% of those with no disability).

To help tackle these issues, our report with Community set out a list of practical recommendations for how government can work to reform the welfare system for the disabled self-employed. We have also issued recommendations for how industry and support organisations can work together to provide expert advice and tailored support for the growing group of disabled self-employed workers.

You can find the full report and list of recommendations here.

* Savanta ComRes, Survey of 1,000 Self-Employed commissioned by IPSE, 2019, unpublished.

Meet the author

Inna Yordanova

Senior Researcher

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