New research is to be conducted on what it means to be self-employed in a significant academic-led project undertaken by the Centre for Research on Self Employment (CRSE) in conjunction with the Institute for Employment Studies (IES). There are currently 4.8 million self-employed people working in the UK, a figure that has risen significantly in the past decade.

The need for the project arises from the acknowledgement that the self-employed workforce has numerous, diverse segments and therefore differentiated policy approaches are required which recognise their various needs. The research will help distinguish between genuine self-employment and people who are miscategorised as self-employed. The project will also seek to distinguish between self-employed workers on the basis of their economic impact, skills, qualifications and earning power, and help to provide a distinction between those who are vulnerable and those who are successful in self-employment, from the perspective of individual welfare and wellbeing.

Due in Autumn, the research will also inform the CRSE’s submission to the Taylor Review of modern employment practices, which will conclude around the same time. The Review was set up by the Prime Minister to explore how employment status and the tax system can better reflect ways of working in 2017.

Professor Andrew Burke, CRSE Chair and Dean of Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, said: “This is an incredibly timely report given the increasing focus on the rise of the gig economy, and the huge contribution people who work for themselves make to the UK. We are excited to explore what it means to be self-employed in 2017 and identify who needs additional support from policy makers and which groups are already well catered for.”

Nigel Meager, Director of the Institute for Employment Studies, commented: “The starting point for our research is the fact that the UK’s self-employed population is not a homogeneous group. This project will shed light on the grey area between employees and the self-employed. We’ll be looking at a wide range of factors, including work conditions, personal characteristics and job characteristics, an understanding of which is crucial in forming public policy in this area.”