Britain's growing army of self-employed workers are typically worse off than employees but enjoy greater job satisfaction, according to a report today.
The Royal Society of Arts (RSA) seeks to rebuff the theory that many people have been forced into working for themselves by a shrinking jobs market since the downturn, arguing instead that they chose to go it alone for greater flexibility and creative freedom.
"I think we have this new type of worker, at least some of the self-employed, that value different things at work, the softer benefits over the harder ones," said Benedict Dellot, author of the Salvation In A Start-Up report.
The self-employed were also drawn to the potential savings on childcare and commuting, added Dellot, a senior researcher at RSA.
The typical full-time self-employed worker earns £74 less per week than a full-time employee and also tends to work longer hours, have less holiday leave and be at risk of social isolation, according to the RSA report in partnership with shopping website Etsy.
But its survey of more than 1,000 microbusiness owners, suggested only one in four who started up in the recession said that escaping unemployment was a key motivating factor. Instead, a more common answer was to achieve greater freedom or "make the most of a good idea". It also found 84% claimed they were more satisfied in their working lives than they would have been in a conventional job. Respondents cited factors such as being able to live where they want and work around caring for older relatives or children.
The RSA is calling for an urgent review of government policy on self-employment, which it predicts will continue to rise further from one in seven workers now.
Its report explicitly disagreed with the trade unions group TUC, which says that pensioners, part-time workers and "odd-jobbers" have been the fastest-growing groups among the new self-employed workforce.
Responding to the RSA's research, TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Reports that look at the average self-employed person provide little insight into the reality of today's labour market. We can both celebrate the budding entrepreneur and object to the bogus self-employment of the building workers and internet delivery van drivers that are just as much part of the insecure exploited workforce as those on an abusive zero-hours contract."
But the RSA said its analysis of the UK's official Labour Force Survey showed that the biggest increase in self-employment since 2008 has been in highly skilled professional occupations, up 35%.
The numbers of micro-businesses was already rising before 2008, adding Dellot, questioning the link between the downturn and people working for themselves.
"The fundamental lesson from our research is that we need to learn to live with the self-employed," he said.
"Trade unions should be trying to support the self-employed rather than hark back to the days where everyone is employed by a large employer."
A separate report today paints a brighter jobs outlook for graduates after years of high youth unemployment and cutbacks in recruitment drives by the big employers.
Graduate vacancies were up 37% on the year in April as employer optimism picked up, according to the latest report from jobs search engine Adzuna. Several large graduate employers including PwC, Deloitte and Teach First are all currently advertising over 1,000 entry-level roles, it said.
"Despite an increase in entry-level vacancies, competition still remains fierce amongst the top graduate employers, with over 160 Class of 2013 graduates battling it out for places on the country's top grad schemes," said Andrew Hunter, Adzuna's co-founder.
Nearly half of all graduate opportunities were in London and the South East, the report said.
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