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Policy reform plea for women’s enterprise

Published: 29th October 2014

A RISE in the number of self-employed women hides the fact that a lot of women’s enterprise in the UK is unglamorous, scarcely profitable and curbed by childcare responsibilities, a Manchester Metropolitan University researcher argues.

The recent rise in female self-employment simply reflect the disproportionate impact of the recession on women’s full time employment, particularly in the public sector. 

“The 34 per cent rise in numbers of self-employed women shown in the latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) report is not evidence that women’s enterprise is flourishing in the UK,” says Dr Julia Rouse, principal lecturer and Director of MMU’s Centre for Business and Society


Women still only make up a third of the UK’s self-employed (1.4 million) and the top occupations for self-employed women are cleaners and domestics, childminders, carers, and hairdressers.

“The reality of entrepreneurship for most people is not the glamour of Dragon’s Den but the struggle to make ends meet,” Dr Rouse points out.

“The majority of self-employed women earn less than £10,000 a year – less than a full-time employee earning minimum wage.

"Enterprise policy has not been well integrated with childcare and maternity policies which simply don’t meet the needs of women wanting to launch a business. The failure of successive governments to understand the strength of the maternity and childcare barrier to enterprise means that a great deal of female entrepreneurial potential is being wasted.”


Recent research suggests:

  • Enterprise programmes that support business start-ups fail to address the strength of the childcare barrier to enterprise and so do little to remove the barrier to start-up or growth
  • Even women from better off families, with good career histories and networks, are much less likely to start in business if they have childcare responsibilities.
  • Self-employed women need childcare support at the launch of their businesses before the business turns a profit because the start-up period is very intensive and time hungry.
  • Self-employed women are not entitled to maternity leave and yet can only claim maternity pay if they take leave. Support is needed to help them keep their businesses alive while they juggle care for an infant with part-time trading.
  • Both policy and practice changes are needed to help women far from the labour market make the transition from economic inactivity (ie being out of paid work for a long time) to start-up.

Dr Rouse’s will discuss the issues as part of Developing Women’s Enterprise to Create Sustainable Communities’ event on November 4, 12-6pm, in MMU Business School, for the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Festival of Social Science.