New right discourses about a welfare underclass advance the idea that a significant proportion of the long-term unemployed prefer benefit dependency to working for a living. The alternative to this 'dependency culture' is the 'enterprise culture', the most tangible manifestation of which is the rapid growth in self-employment and the number of new, small firms in the UK over the past fifteen years. Whilst sociologists have engaged with debates abut the 'underclass', surprisingly few studies have examined the motivations, values and experiences of those who appear to have moved out of 'benefit dependency' into self-employed enterprise. Qualitative research explored the experiences of working-class people in Teesside who attempted to 'become their own boss'. It follows the progress of 'young entrepreneurs' over several years into the mid-1990s and complements this with an investigation of adults in business. The realities of survival self-employment developed in the face of permanently high rates of local unemployment do not accord with notions of an 'enterprise culture', nor of a 'dependency culture', but are better understood as part of a growing culture of informal and risky work.