“Wake up call” for government as self-employed sector shrinks by £25bn, according to new research

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New research suggesting the self-employed sector’s contribution to the UK economy fell by an estimated £25bn in 2022 is a “wake up call” for government to change course on its agenda for the nation’s smallest businesses, the UK’s freelancer trade body has said.

The findings, released today by IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed), suggest that whilst the solo self-employed population remained stable at 4.1 million in 2022, the sector’s economic contribution plunged by an estimated £25bn to a total of £278bn – an 8 per cent contraction compared to 2021.

The figures come as IPSE launches the latest edition of its ‘Self-Employed Landscape’ report, which tracks both the Office for National Statistics' Labour Force Survey and the government's own business population and turnover estimates, to estimate the economic contribution of the solo self-employed. The report provides a yearly snapshot of the sector and reviews the size, make-up, and overall contribution of the those who work for themselves.

Despite the fall in the sector’s economic contribution, the 2022 Self-Employed Landscape report yielded positive news for groups underrepresented in the workforce. The self-employed disabled population continued its trend of year-on-year growth since 2013, increasing by 42 per cent during this time, whilst the number of working mothers in self-employment has increased by 55 per cent since 2008 – the latter now accounting for 13 per cent of the solo self-employed workforce.

The average age of the UK’s solo self-employed is now 48 years old – one year older than 2021 – with the 60+ age bracket growing by 7 per cent in 2022, more than any other age group, to account for a fifth (21%) of the solo self-employed population.

Andy Chamberlain, Director of Policy of IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed), said: “Whilst the self-employed population has been resilient at best – and stagnant at worst – it is very concerning that the sector’s economic contribution has fallen by £25bn, pointing to a less rewarding operating environment for solo business owners.

“This research should act as a wake-up call to government. Policies which are detrimental to the sector, such as the IR35 rules and the VAT threshold acting as a cap on activity, should be reviewed.

We know that self-employment is an attractive option for key groups, particularly older workers; if government is serious about growing the economy and tempting them out of economic inactivity, it should be doing all it can to make self-employment an attractive and aspirational option.”


IPSE – The Self-Employed Landscape Report 2022

IPSE - the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed


Building on the previous publication, the Self-Employment Landscape in 2021, the principal data source used is the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Labour Force Survey (LFS). The data was extracted by Professor John Kitching from Kingston University’s Small Business Research Centre in October 2022. All the LFS data refers to quarter two of the relevant years unless otherwise stated. The business Populations Estimates for the UK and Regions (BPE) data source was also used to calculate contribution to the economy. The analysis has been completed by IPSE.

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IPSE is the leading association for contractors, consultants, interims, freelancers and the self-employed. We strive to bring our members the most comprehensive and useful range of information and services and all the latest news about what affects your business.