The self-employed workforce fell from a peak of nearly five million people in July to September 2019 to 4.3 million in the same period of 2021, according to new analysis from Rest Less, an online community and advocate for people in their 50s, 60s and beyond.

Rest Less analysed a bespoke dataset from the Office of National Statistics which compared levels of self-employment in the UK during the period of July to September in the years between 2011 and 2021. Rest Less’s analysis found that the number of self-employed people reached a high of 4.95 million people in July to September 2019, falling to 4.27 million in July to September 2021 – a drop of 682,000 or 14%. The number of self-employed individuals has not been this low in any July – September period since 2013.

In addition to the impact of the pandemic, sweeping changes to legislation regarding off-payroll working rules (IR35) came into force in April 2021. These resulted in many contractors who previously classed themselves as self-employed moving onto company payrolls, which has contributed to the fall in self-employed numbers and boosted the numbers on payroll.

The number of self-employed workers fell across all age categories in the past two years apart from those in their 70s and 80s which increased by 7% and 88% respectively (Table 1). Despite the drop in the number of self-employed workers in their 50s and 60s, the proportion of self-employed people aged 50 and older increased in the past two years from 45% to 47% (Chart 2). There are more self-employed workers in the 50-59 age group than in any other age group. This is now the only age group where the number of self-employed workers exceeds 1 million.

Stuart Lewis, Founder of Rest Less, commented: “The self-employed workforce has gone through a tumultuous couple of years as they first faced the full force of the pandemic shutdown with business drying up overnight for many, as well as sweeping legislation changes around IR35 in April, which brought an end to many previous self-employed contractors providing their services through personal services companies.

“Whilst the number of self-employed workers overall has shrunk by 14% in two years, self-employment remains an attractive option for many workers in their 50s, 60s and beyond, with workers over 50 making up nearly half of the entire self-employed population.

“From our community we see three main drivers behind the popularity of self-employment amongst experienced workers. The first is around the surge in mid-life entrepreneurship and armed with significant business and life experience, the opportunity to head out on their own and build something that excites them is a real draw. Some are attracted by the flexibility that self-employment can offer, as a way of balancing work and home ambitions and restoring a sense of work-life balance after decades of hard work. For others however, it can feel like the only option to earn a living for anyone feeling shut out of the workforce due to age discrimination.”

Case studies available on request.



Notes to Editors
*Rest Less analysed a bespoke data set from the ONS provided in November 2021 and is based on data from the Labour Force Survey July to September period 2011 to 2021

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About Rest Less
Rest Less ( launched in early 2019 and is a digital community for people in their 50s, 60s and beyond. Rest Less is on a mission to help its members get more out of life and offers content guidance and resources on topics spanning Jobs and Careers, Volunteering, Learning, Money, Health and Lifestyle and Dating.