Are more people self-employed?

29 September 2015
What was claimed

One in seven workers are self-employed, and the number is growing.

Our verdict

One in seven is right, and the number and proportion of workers that are self-employed has been rising since the early 2000s, although it has fluctuated.

"One in seven of the labour force now work for themselves."

Jeremy Corbyn, 29 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn said today, in his speech to the Labour Party Conference, that "one in seven" of those in the labour force are self-employed. This morning the shadow Education Secretary, Lucy Powell, reportedly claimed that the number is "growing".

One in seven is right, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Its latest figures show that just over 31 million people are employed, of which 4.5 million work for themselves. That's around 14.5% of all workers, or one in seven (measuring over May-July 2015).

Is the number of self-employed people "growing"? Well, yes, that is the broad trend over the past few years, although it's fluctuated a bit. But the population and the number of workers have also increased over the years, so it's not altogether surprising that so has the number of self-employed people.

More to the point is whether the proportion is growing. Was that one in seven previously one in eight?

That depends on where you measure from. In the same period a year ago, to take one point of reference, the proportion of self-employed people was slightly higher than it is now, at 14.9%.

Over the longer term, the proportion does seem to be on the rise. When David Cameron was first elected Prime Minister, for instance, the proportion was 13.5%.

The lowest point back to 1992, when the figures start, was at the end of 2000 when it was 11.7%. That's almost one in nine people.

Here's the chart—decide for yourself what it shows.

The ONS has also published analysis comparing back to earlier figures, finding in 2014 that the proportion of workers who were self-employed (15% over the year) was higher than at any point over the past 40 years.

Update 29 September 2015

We added in the last sentence to reference the 2014 ONS analysis.

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