Addressing inclusivity in the spatial and social impacts of COVID-19 on the self-employed in the UK

  • Researchers: Dr Darja Reuschke (University of Southampton); Victoria Price (University of Southampton)
  • Research partners: Prof Andrew Henley (Cardiff University); Prof Elizabeth Daniel (Open University); Dr Mark Lang (Independent Researcher)
  • Funding body: UK Research Innovation (UKRI) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • Project status: Current

The UK's flexible labour market model has produced high levels of self-employment. The self- employed are predominant in those sectors most hit by shutdown and distancing measures. This study is to provide a systematic identification and understanding of the disparate spatial, social and economic impacts of COVID-19 on the self-employed in the UK using secondary analysis of nationally representative UK survey data and qualitative interviews with self-employed people focussing on coping strategies and experiences with the Self-employed Income Support Scheme.

This study will provide a systematic identification and understanding of the disparate spatial, social and economic impacts of COVID-19 on the self-employed in the UK. We will produce a series of reports that will be made available widely to inform small business and self-employed stakeholders and the public on the impact of the crisis on the self-employed – an important element of the UK economy. The first milestone, during the first three months of the project, is a report on what happened to the self-employed during the first two month of lockdown. Using a sample of almost 1,500 self-employed individuals, this report will focus on the impact on their earnings and hours worked. A second milestone, after six months into the project, will be reports on the spatial impact on self-employment and on the uptake and impact of the Self-employment Income Support Scheme. A third milestone, after 12 months, is a publication of findings on the resilience of the UK self-employed with a special focus on gender. In the last six months of the project, we will summarise findings from interviews with the self-employed. The fourth milestone will be a report on how the self-employed coped with the economic shock caused by the coronavirus outbreak. We will also organise a conference with participants, both from the UK and internationally, to discuss our findings and their consequences for policy. A final report will summarise recommendations for economic policy, regionally and nationally, informed by our findings and inputs from experts in the field. The project will be funded until the 7th January 2022.

Please click below to download recent papers and other outputs from the project. This section will be updated regularly.


The Coronavirus Pandemic and Changes to Self-employment in 2020 in the UK Regions. Project Report No.5 (Nov, 2021).

During 2020 the UK saw a substantial and significant decrease in self-employment as a result of public health measures imposed to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this report, we examine how the impact on the self-employed differed across UK regions and how this changed as the pandemic progressed from the initial lockdown in April until December 2020. Using data from the Quarterly Labour Force Survey and the Annual Population Survey we further reveal disparities in gender, which industrial sectors were most affected, and the types of self-employment which were more resilient throughout the four quarters of 2020.

COVID-19 and the Impact on Self-employment in the UK in October-December 2020. Project Report No.4 (May, 2021).

This report presents our findings on the changes to self-employment in the fourth and final quarter of 2020. Following our previous project reports, we use representative data from the UK Labour Force Survey (LFS) to assess the impact of the varying COVID-19 restrictions on the self-employed in different industries, regions and by gender, age and ethnicity.

Testing the Differential Impact of COVID-19 on Self-Employed Women and Men in the United Kingdom. IZA Discussion Paper No. 14216 (March, 2021)

This paper investigates whether the female self-employed are more affected by the COVID-19 crisis than the male self-employed using longitudinal data from the Understanding Society COVID-19 Study 2020, four months following the first ‘lockdown’ in the UK. We specifically test the role of family/social, economic and psychological factors on gendered differential impact. We find that self-employment exits are not gendered but women are more likely to experience reductions in hours worked and earnings. However, lower attitude to risk in women is associated with lower risk of reduction in earnings.

Self-employment in the UK in September 2020. Project Report No.3 (January, 2021).

This report presents our most recent findings on the changes to self-employment during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Using the July-September Labour Force Survey (LFS), we present regional variations in self-employment, differences by social groups and industry, and flows into and out of self-employment between the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2020. We also draw on the Understanding Society COVID-19 Study for insights into earnings losses and reductions in hours of the self-employed since the beginning of the 1st national lockdown.

Changes in UK self-employment in April-June 2020. Project Report No.2 (November, 2020).

In this report, we present findings from the April-June 2020 Quarterly Labour Force Survey (LFS), the January-June 2020 Two-Wave Longitudinal LFS and the 2019 Annual Population Survey (APS). We compare self-employment during April-June 2020 with the first quarter of of the year and the previous year, to provide an early assessment of the changes to self-employment taking place across regions, industries and social characteristics.

First findings on the impact of COVID-19 on self-employment in the UK – evidence from the Understanding Society household survey. ERC Insight Paper (August 2020).

This short insight paper, published through the ESRC Enterprise Research Centre, provides early findings of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the self-employed during the first two months of the first lockdown (April and May, 2020). This analysis utilizes the Understanding Society COVID-19 Study 2020 and focuses on loss of employment/jobs, reduction in working hours and earnings, and variations across industries, regions and social groups, including women and ethnic minorities.

Covid-19 and self-employment in the UK. Project Report No.1 (April 2020).

This is the first of a series of reports published by the project, examining the on-going impact of COVID-19 on the self-employed, using data from the UK Quarterly Labour Force Surveys. Published with the ESRC Enterprise Research Centre, we provide a preliminary assessment of the likely impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the self-employed, including analysis of which groups (gender, age, qualifications and the home-based self-employed) and regions are most at risk of significant income loss and therefore household distress.

More information

Please contact Darja Reuschke,