Almost half of self-employed people in the UK are over 50

Almost half of self-employed people in the UK are over 50
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Tue 11th Apr 2023

Nearly half of self-employed workers in the UK are aged 50 or older, new research reveals.

According to analysis of Office of National Statistics data by digital community Rest Less, 48% of freelancers, contractors and other self-employed individuals are 50 or over, the highest proportion in a decade.

The number of self-employed workers over 50 has increased by 18% during the past 10 years, compared to the proportion of those under 50 which has been in steady decline.

Proportion of self-employed workforce by age group

self-employed workforce by age group

Self-employed workforce aged over 50, 2012-2022

number of self-employed over 50

Stuart Lewis, chief executive of Rest Less, said the figures reflect "changing attitudes towards work and retirement" amongst the over 50s generation who are looking for flexible ways to remain active in the workforce and maintain a sense of purpose.

He added:

"Technological advancements mean setting up a business in your 50s or 60s has never been easier and armed with rich life experience and a valuable business network behind them, the appeal of building something of their own or pursuing a passion project can be a powerful draw."

The government has a focus on the over 50s with incentives aimed at encouraging those who are unemployed to return to work announced in the Spring Budget last month.

But Lewis said there are challenges:

"There is a more sinister side to the rise in self-employment amongst this age group. Shut out of the mainstream workforce due to a lack of flexible working opportunities and rampant age discrimination in the workplace means many older workers have no choice but to set up on their own.

"Stuck between a rock and a hard place with a rising cost of living and the state pension age soon to be extended to 67, self-employment can feel like the only option for many who have been denied access to traditional employment."

Start-up and self-employment support for the over 50s

Enterprise Nation has urged the government to support the over 50s to start their own business or move into employment including calling on the Department for Work and Pensions to review the self-employment targets for the Restart programme so the focus is rebalanced from finding people jobs to supporting people to create their own.

Many more are 'unretiring', retraining and launching their own business. According to Enterprise Nation's 2022 quarter four Small Business Barometer, around a third (35%) of small businesses are new started by people in their late 40s onwards.

We say that the government should consider working with the private sector and established groups in the mature employment sector to form a consortium to support entrepreneurs and attract this talent back into small and large businesses alike.

Relevant Enterprise Nation resources

How to start a business aged over 50

The ultimate guide to becoming a freelance adviser

StartUp UK: Tips for launching and growing a business

Guide: How to start a side hustle

Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance journalist and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I'm also Enterprise Nation's news reporter and Bristol Local Leader. I have 20 years of experience as a small business journalist having interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from famous names like Sir Richard Branson and Deborah Meaden to the founders behind brand new start-ups. I've worked for a range of leading small business publications and support groups, most recently as head of content at Enterprise Nation where I was responsible for the prolific output of content on the company's blog and social media. I now freelance for Enterprise Nation as the website's news reporter and as the host of the Small Business sessions podcast. I'm based in Bristol where I run and host regular events with the local small business community in my role as Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I also have strong connections with other major business organisations in the south west region. In total, I've hosted over 100 events including conferences with an audience of hundreds for international brands like Xero and Facebook and live web chats from inside 10 Downing Street. With my partner, I co-run Lifestyle District, a lifestyle blog focused on culture, art, theatre and photography.

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