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Press releases

Disabled people choose self-employment despite being ‘let down’ by government


3 min read Partner content

More disabled people than ever before are choosing self-employment, but are being let down by poor support from government, according to new research from IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) and the Community trade union.

The study, ‘Making self-employment work for disabled people’, found that 611,000 UK disabled people now work for themselves in their main job. The report also found that although they overwhelmingly see self-employment as a positive way of working, they do not get the support they need from government.

Key findings of the report are:

  • One in seven (611,000 people) of the self-employed UK workforce are disabled, up by 30 per cent in five years.
  • Disabled people actively choose self-employment; only 12 per cent were ‘pushed’ into it by a lack of opportunities or redundancy.
  • The most common reason for choosing self-employment is to get better work conditions – as confirmed by one in five disabled freelancers.
  • Most of the issues faced by the disabled self-employed – such as late payment – are shared by the whole sector.
  • Disabled self-employed people are struggling not only with difficulties accessing benefits through the Work Capability Assessment, but also with widespread poor understanding of self-employment.

Disabled freelancers share many of the same problems as the wider self-employed sector, such as government confusion about employment status and a lack of clarity about regulations. There is also the major problem of late payment, which the report argues the government should tackle by giving increased powers to the Small Business Commissioner. Beyond these, however, they also face many specific challenges.

The report issues a number of disability-specific recommendations for government and support organisations, including:

  • Re-designing the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) to consider a range of physical and mental health conditions and reduce the chance of incorrect decisions being made.  
  • Better publicity for the Access to Work programme, which is often described as ‘the best kept secret for supporting disabled people in work’.
  • Support organisations such as charities, trade associations and trade unions should help disabled people access mentoring and tailored support.

Jonathan Lima-Matthews, Head of Public Affairs at IPSE, said: “Working for themselves is an overwhelmingly positive choice for disabled people. They can enjoy the freedom to work when, where and, crucially, how they want – something many told us they couldn’t do in permanent employment.

“The Government says it wants to help people get into work, but ministers are letting disabled people down by failing to support them to be their own boss. It’s time for it to turn this around and give disabled people striking out for themselves the support they need.”

John Paul McHugh, Assistant General Secretary at Community, said: “The growth in the number of disabled people becoming self-employed shows no signs of slowing. It’s no surprise this report found a majority had a positive view of self-employment and intended to stay in it for the long-term.

“However, it’s clear not enough is being done by government to help disabled people to make a success of this way of working. Partnering with like-minded organisations and charities, we believe we can create a better working world for disabled people through self-employment, but that also needs the right focus and policies from government. This report sets out the steps that should be taken.”