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UK benefits by a £109 billion contribution from freelancers

Freelancers’ contribution to the UK economy soared to £109 billion in 2015, according to new research published by IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed.

The research, launching at IPSE’s flagship policy conference today (Tuesday 26 April) suggests that £109 billion is a conservative estimate and freelancers might be expected to generate even greater revenue. Freelancers’ economic contribution is often disproportionately higher than that of other businesses as this group largely consists of highly-skilled, specialist individuals.

In total there were 1.91 million freelancers in 2015, a rise of 36 per cent since 2008. Notably, 1.65 million choose to freelance as their main job, with 255,000 doing so as a second job. In total, freelancers now account for six per cent of the UK workforce.  

Chris Bryce, IPSE CEO, commented: “Every day freelancers make an enormous contribution to businesses across the UK and the economy as a whole. Research shows the vast majority of freelancers love what they do, so it’s no surprise that increasing numbers of people are turning to this way of working.

“Large firms, and increasingly, SMEs are tapping into this growing pool of independent workers who are available on demand, with the specialist skills to hit the ground running. There are few signs of the growth in freelancing slowing down any time soon.”

Small Business Minister Anna Soubry said: “Freelancers know their trades inside out and make a massive contribution to our economy, so it is absolutely right that the government does all it can to support them.

“The Enterprise Bill will shortly become law and I look forward to appointing the Small Business Commissioner as another strong voice for the self-employed. We must continue to champion the work they do and recognise the challenges they face every day.”

Author of the report, Professor John Kitching, from Kingston University London, said: “Freelancing continues to be an important contributor to the UK economy. Independent Professionals are operating in all sectors of the UK economy: men and women, young and old, throughout the UK. It is clear that freelancer numbers are resilient to changing economic circumstances. Freelancing offers a valued form of working to those supplying their services on this basis while also meeting the needs of end-users in many industries.

The research also confirmed that more women are turning to freelancing than ever before. Many of these new arrivals are also mothers: 287,000, an increase of 70 per cent since 2008.

Other newcomers driving this growth include mature workers, with those aged 60 plus rising by almost two thirds (63%) since 2008, and also much younger freelancers aged between 16 and 29, who rose in number by 51 per cent in the same period.

Freelancers have a widespread presence across all occupations. They are particularly well represented in artistic, literary and media roles, representing 17 per cent of all freelancers. Managers and proprietors in other services (12%) and teaching/education professionals (7%) also make up a significant proportion of the UK’s freelancers.