Accessibility links


Self-employment in the UK is growing rapidly. Since the turn of the century there has been a 30 percent increase in the number of people working for themselves, with the result that one in seven of the workforce are now self-employed. Some have argued that this is a sign of a resurgent entrepreneurial spirit, while others lament that it points to a deeper malaise in the UK economy. Whatever the viewpoint taken, it is clear that the labour market is unlikely to return to business as usual in the foreseeable future. It is therefore important that we better understand the needs of this emerging community, and wherever possible seek to improve the livelihoods of people working for themselves.

Our current projects include:

The Power of Small - Examining the boom in microbusinesses and self-employment, and what this means for the economy and society as a whole. Our first report, Salvation in a Start-up, explored the reasons why people are turning to self-employment and what this means for their financial situation and personal wellbeing. Future reports will explore what the growth in self-employment could mean for major macroeconomic issues such as jobs growth, innovation and productivity.

Boosting the Living Standards of the Self-employed - Exploring the economic and social challenges that prevent the self-employed from achieving a higher standard of living, and consolidating emerging thinking about how these might be addressed. Through a combination of data mining, roundtables and interviews with experts in the field, our aim will be to explore how the self-employed fair on several components of living standards, including earnings, debt, social relationships, wellbeing and access to mortgages and pensions. 

Microbusiness Summit - A one day summit in February 2015 that will consider how our economy, society and state need to change so that microbusinesses and the self-employed can flourish. The event will comprise a series of panel debates, in-depth conversations and key-note speeches, and will touch upon issues such as the role of technology in opening up business to more people, the part small businesses could play in a fairer and more just capitalism, and how the political parties should respond to the growing numbers who want to work for themselves. 

Our previous work has touched upon:

The informal economy - Against the backdrop of persistent levels of activity in the informal economy, this project explored different models for how we can better incentivise and support 'hidden entrepreneurs' to make the transition to the formal economy. The research culminated in a set of evidence-based policy recommendations for the implementation of new and effective formalisation models.

Youth enterprise - Through a series of research projects we have explored how more young people could be encouraged and enabled to start up in business. Central to this has been identifying the new and unconventional ways in which young people are starting up in business. Our two reports - A Manifesto for Youth Enterprise and Disrupt Inc. - summarise our research to date.

Self-generated value - In our report, Generation Enterprise, we argue that the power to generate value, which was always the preserve of the entrepreneur and the business, is shifting to the consumer. But far from making the entrepreneur obsolete, the self-generated value transformation has unleashed a new wave of entrepreneurialism, particularly amongst the younger generation.

This RSA project is working in partnership with Etsy, RBS Group and Joseph Rowntree Foundation.