Understanding self-employment for people with disabilities and health conditions

Adams, Lorna, Cartmell, Becky, Foster, Rowan, Foxwell, Matthew, Holker, Leo, Pearson, Alex, Stewart, Gill, Cowling, Marc and Kitching, John (2019) Understanding self-employment for people with disabilities and health conditions. (Project Report) London, U.K. : Department for Work and Pensions. 83 p. ISBN 9781786591371


The objective of this research was to enhance DWP’s understanding of the experience of self-employment for individuals with disabilities and health conditions – particularly the challenges experienced, and the types of support required to set-up, sustain and grow their business. Forty in-depth interviews were carried out with disabled self-employed individuals, representatives of organisations that support disabled people and self-employed people, and representatives from Jobcentre Plus. Some of the main challenges faced by this group were similar to the challenges faced by self-employed people in general. However, most challenges were very much exacerbated by individuals’ experience of disability, and some other challenges were more unique to this group. The most serious challenges were a lack of confidence, managing their workload with a fluctuating condition, accessing finance and income, accessing advice and support relevant to their needs, and travel. The ideal support wanted by this group included peer mentoring from someone with a lived experience of disability, a centralised information source of guidance relevant to disabled self-employed people, a service that provides flexible ad hoc assistance with things like physical access and travel, and financial help via interest free loans for start-ups, or preferential rates of borrowing. Some of the key conclusions from this piece of research were that disabled entrepreneurs may need more support than other people entering self-employment. This is because it is common for them to feel that self-employment is their only option, as other forms of employment are not a viable option. This can mean that they enter self-employment without the same amount of time to mentally and financially prepare for the transition. Some of the businesses run by disabled entrepreneurs were reported to be at the margins of financial viability, and it was common for these entrepreneurs to feel that they were operating at the limit of workloads they could cope with. Fluctuating conditions also can make self-employment very difficult to manage. Periods of pain, fatigue or poor mental health which are difficult to predict can lead to fluctuating periods of work and fluctuating income. This underpinned many of the challenges faced by this group.

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