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Self-Employment as Precarious Work

A European Perspective

Wieteke Conen and Joop Schippers

Since the 1970s the long term decline in self-employment has slowed – and even reversed in some countries – and the prospect of ‘being your own boss’ is increasingly topical in the discourse of both the general public and within academia. Traditionally, self-employment has been associated with independent entrepreneurship, but increasingly it has become a form of precarious work. This book utilises evidence-based information to address both the current and future challenges of this trend as the nature of self-employment changes, as well as to demonstrate where, when and why self-employment has emerged as precarious work in Europe.
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Chapter 5: Self-employment: independent ‘enterprise’, or precarious low-skilled work? The case of the UK

Nigel Meager


This chapter looks at the recent unprecedented expansion of self-employment in the UK, which raises important questions about the role of this form of work in the modern labour market, the income levels and wellbeing of the workers affected, and the appropriate legislative and institutional infrastructure. The policy debate has been given further impetus by the emergence of hybrid forms of work in the ‘gig’ economy, which share some characteristics with self-employment and others with employees. This chapter reviews the UK literature and statistical evidence, drawing also on the author’s recent work on the job quality of the self-employed, addressing the question of how far these developments can be interpreted as a positive development, reinforcing entrepreneurship and economic growth, or whether they are reinforcing labour market inequalities and generating new forms of disadvantage for the ‘new self-employed’.

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