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Innovation and enterprise blog

18 November 2014

Book Review - Salvation in a start-up? The origins and nature of the self-employment boom

The digital publication of this book by Benedict Dellot, published by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) on May 2014, attracted my attention when it was featured last month on the “Small Business and Entrepreneurship” section of the Management & Business Studies Portal. It is a research study report, available for everyone as open-access material and there is no need to be registered as user of the portal to access it. 

Salvation in a start-up

The report looks at the reasons behind the rise of self-employment and microbusinesses in the UK, and is a very interesting report to read as it highlights the profiles of the main users of the Business & IP Centre.  It is an output of the project named “The Power of Small”, which seeks to better understand the growing community of self-employed and microbusinesses, and was launched by RSA in collaboration with Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade goods and vintage items.

Six tribes of self-employment

The report focuses on the individuals involved in the self-employed community, trying to answer questions such as why so many people are turning to self-employment and what this means for them personally. It segments the self-employed community into six “tribes”, from Visionaries all the way through to Dabblers (see Figure 1), presenting a typical case for each “tribe”. The author considers this typology crucial for policymakers who can then create effective interventions and policy solutions that will improve the livelihood of the self-employed community.

 The report highlights the following main research findings and recommendations:

  • Most people choose to be self-employed for greater freedom, meaning and control, defying the myth that those who started up in the recessionary period of the last five years did so to escape unemployment.
  • The biggest increases in self-employment have been in professional occupations (one of the highest skilled groups), defying the myth that most of the newly self-employed are low-skilled odd-jobbers.
  • Very few that started up in the last 5 years have taken employees, so there is need to stimulate growth and recruitment in the self-employed;
  • Despite the majority agreeing that the economy is getting better and the country is heading in the right direction, very few agree that the government adequately supports the self-employed and that the welfare system is fair to people in their position; there is need for urgent review of government policy on self-employment, from welfare and taxes, all the way through to education and housing.

 In the next phase of the Power of Small project, attention will be focused on the wider economic and social implications of the growth of the microbusiness community. This report – the first of three -  gives a good understanding of what it means for the people directly involved, but questions remain about the impact of a growing microbusiness community on major issues that affect us all, such as productivity, innovation, jobs growth, inequality and living standards.

Irini Efthimiadou on behalf of the Business & IP Centre London

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