Contractor groups have been responding to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures for the quarter to February 2018, which reveal that unemployment has fallen again to reach a forty-three year low.

During the quarter, unemployment fell by 16,000 to reach 1.42 million – the lowest measure since May 1975, the year when Microsoft was founded and Monty Python and the Holy Grail appeared in cinemas.

Meanwhile, the number of people in work hit a record high of 32.2 million, a rise of 427,000 more people compared to the same time last year.

Pay also managed to break out of the doldrums it has been mired in for so long, rising by 2.8% during the quarter, just under the inflation rate of 2.9%.

The number of people categorised as self-employed, which includes a significant proportion of independent contracting professionals, remained steady at approximately 4.8 million. This figure contained an increase of 85,000 among the part-time self-employed.

Commenting on the latest data, Julia Kermode, CEO of the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA, the leading trade association for Umbrella Companies), noted that the rise in part-time self-employment appeared to be an active choice as it sits alongside a rise of 216,000 in part-time roles among those who were not seeking permanent work.

Kermode believed that the rise in part-time self-employment was most likely attributable to a combination of two factors: people subsidising their primary job with freelance work and others choosing to stop working on a full-time basis to pursue a portfolio of part-time roles in order to gain the flexibility they seek.

Work patterns, she observed, are shifting and the expansion of non-traditional employment is “going to continue.”

She added:

“Our analysis of ONS labour market data shows that 70% of the growth in self-employment since 2008 has been at the highly skilled end of the spectrum in the following ONS categories: managers, directors and senior officials; professional occupations; and associate professional and technical positions.”

Meanwhile, Tom Purvis, Political and Economic Advisor at the contractor body the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE), noted that self-employment had grown vigorously since the global crash of 2007/8. While it didn’t grow in the quarter to February 2018, it remained stable, showing that “it is here to stay.”

He added:

“Self-employment is allowing many who might not otherwise be able to – from retirees to disabled people – to make a major contribution to the UK economy. In fact, overall, the self-employed contribute no less than £271 billion to the UK economy – money that can be spent on schools, the NHS and a whole host of other important areas.”

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