More and more the government is trying to get the narrative to switch so that people think that they have got the economy working again. One of the things they are using to claim this is pointing to the increased number of people in employment. But, statistics are social constructs and it’s important to de-construct this statistic and understand the reasons behind it.
When doing this, one of the key things that you’ll notice is the rise in self-employment. There are notable people and articles referencing how many have moved to self-employment through desperation as finding other forms of employment in more ‘traditional’ areas is becoming increasingly hard. Alongside this, is a depressingly marked decrease in self-employment income – with obvious signs of an un-sustainable ‘recovery’ of the job market, despite what the government claims.
I am self-employed through choice, working for two Sheffield based social enterprises whilst trying to do the odd freelance thing aside from this here and there. I love it and wouldn’t want to do anything else. However, for my MA dissertation I looked at a changing definition of social enterprise, linking – I feel – to the rise in self-employment. This changing definition reflects a movement towards a free market, more profit motive seeking US definition and away from the more restrictive, community based/owned non-profit focus that had previously dominated.
My research analysed the connections between the rise of neoliberalism and the development and options for the social enterprise sector in Sheffield, UK and Pittsburgh, PA, US. I found that within this changing context, social enterprises – which many self-employed people work for – when defined restrictively (in terms of profit distribution and ownership structure) was increasingly reducing, with the move from government and European grant and contract based resources to loan-based, social finance, non-statutory, voucher scheme funding relating to the intensifying neoliberal relations under this current government; with the recreation of universal interests around finance and profit with the promotion of social businesses – especially given the neoliberal legitimacy crisis.
Self-employment has changed in this context to be one of the last options many people have for trying to get a decent standard of living rather than going onto benefits – because there aren’t any jobs, with a ever weakening real economy whilst the parasitic financial sector grows – and then told that they are ‘scum’ for doing so every day by the national media and those in power responsible for creating such a job and living crisis. We have seen self-employment and the concept of the third sector abused with the idea of a ‘big society’ being a nice way of covering up a neoliberal, nasty ideological agenda that is about making people do good stuff for free, and the stuff that pays – even if it nearly crashes the economy – reinforcing this unequal system.
I’ll be writing more about this in my upcoming book, The Capitalist Production of ‘Ideals’, that I hope to be releasing some time next year.